CARRIER WOODS – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today announced a $325,000 grant to fund some of the actions that are transforming an abandoned Southern Illinois strip mine into a place where tourists will be able enjoy hiking, hunting and fishing. The grant brings to $1.125 million dollars the amount of funding in the new state budget to improve the Sahara Woods State Fish and Wildlife Area. The governor’s budget also provides funding to hire a new Department of Natural Resources site technician to oversee activities at Sahara Woods in Saline and Williamson Counties.
“Property that was an eyesore now becomes an asset, benefiting the Southern Illinois economy,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “Here in the heart of Illinois coal country, this project proves that mining is compatible with natural resource stewardship.”
Funding for Sahara Woods includes $325,000 in capital funds, and $800,000 from the Illinois Department of Transportation Park Road Program. The capital funding for Sahara Woods will allow the state to take the next steps toward developing the site. That will include road improvements, building boat ramps, and posting informational signs on the property. IDOT will provide funding to upgrade the existing loop roads with an oil chip surface, grade and reshape ditches, reshape pipe culverts, and build new parking lots.
“This land has been vacant, doing nothing to spur Southern Illinois’ economy. With the Governor’s help this grant will bring in tourists and money to the surrounding area,” said Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg).
Sahara Woods State Fish and Wildlife Area will attract tourists to Southern Illinois as it is developed into a premium fish and wildlife area. Opportunities including fishing, deer and turkey hunting, and bird watching will be emphasized. The site encompasses approximately 4,000 acres in Saline County. The Sahara Coal Company of Harrisburg donated the land for development in 1999. It includes a 100-acre lake, several smaller ponds, wetlands and wooded areas.
"This grant will go a very long way in moving along the transformation of this abandoned strip mine into a place where local residents and tourists will be able to enjoy the many opportunities Southern Illinois has to offer like hiking, hunting and fishing. As our economy struggles, these dollars are all the more important as they will help us improve local infrastructure and build upon our efforts to increase tourism in the area,” Sen. Gary Forby (D-Benton) said.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources Abandoned Land Reclamation Division has been working since the state acquired the site to address problems on the property that resulted from the former mining activities. Engineering and construction crews have eliminated mine refuse piles and dilapidated mine buildings. Trees have been planted to control erosion and improve wildlife habitat. IDNR has also supervised treatment of ponds damaged by mine refuse runoff. In addition to state funding, the Federal Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Trust is investing $9 million in trust funds for clean up of Sahara Woods to prepare the site for public use.
“This is a site with tremendous potential on the verge of being realized, thanks to the hard work of IDNR scientists and engineers,” said Joel Brunsvold, Director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. “The lakes provide a myriad of opportunities for those who enjoy fishing. The terrain is ideal for backpacking, horseback riding, and hiking. The development of habitat is literal groundwork for great opportunities for hunters and those who enjoy watching wildlife, especially birds.”
“This is a great example of effective partnerships at work,” said Dir. Brunsvold. “We will accomplish so much at this site because of the investment of state and federal dollars coming on the heels of a donation of property by a private company.”
Sahara Woods State Natural Area is located in Saline and Williamson Counties in Southern Illinois, along Illinois Route 13 and Carrier Mills Road. No date has yet been scheduled when the Sahara Woods State Fish and Wildlife Area will be open to the public. The site was open for archery deer hunting on a limited basis in fall of 2003.