KARNAK – Mention Section 8 Woods to even longtime Southern Illinois residents and you’ll likely be met with a blank stare.
That’s not surprising.
As Illinois Department of Natural Resources sites go, Section 8 Woods is small, just 326 acres. But, those acres are also well hidden.
Section 8 Woods, located off Route 37 just north and west of Karnak, is marked only by a small brown tourism sign. The sign is located just a few yards from the small parking lot, large enough for about five cars.
By the time tourists or visitors read the sign, they are about a quarter-mile beyond the parking lot.
“A lot of the Cache River is that way,” said Jay Massey, the IDNR’s site superintendent for Section 8 Woods. “It’s such a spread out area and a lot of people don’t know about it. It’s not trafficked very much.”
For those who don’t bother turning around and going back — they don’t know what they are missing. The short boardwalk, less than a quarter-mile in length, takes visitors directly into the heart of a cypress-tupelo swamp.
For anyone who takes the time to visit, they’ll get close-up looks at pileated and red-bellied woodpeckers, prothonotary, yellow-throated and cerulean warblers, great blue herons and black vultures. In addition, they will be surrounded by massive cypress and tupelos and get close-up looks at buttonbush.
“It takes you right back,” Massey said. “I don’t even know how to put it into words. It transports you to another time almost where it is real easy to forget the present. You don’t hear any of the daily trappings. It is transformative.
“Especially when the water is up a little bit and the whole thing is covered with water, when the cypress trees and the water tupelo … the amount of wildlife, that’s almost all you hear once you get back there. The frogs, the birds, the amount of critters you’ll witness if you just sit there quietly … it’s just kind of an amazing.”
Unfortunately, one of the highlights of Section 8 Woods was lost this week.
The state record water tupelo tree was toppled in a storm earlier this week. The massive tree measured 23 feet in circumference and was believed to be about 1,000 years old.
Despite that loss, Section 8 Woods is still a spectacular place to visit.
Just a few strides down the boardwalk and the trees do seem to envelop you. As the forest closes in, a deceptive sense of vastness seems to have the same effect on birds and wildlife.
“If you just sit still and quiet, they don’t pay attention to you at all,” Massey said. “You just become part of the scenery which is what makes it so cool. As long as you stand still, you’re just another tree. You're just a part of the habitat. You are a visitor in their living room. As long as you respect that, they don’t pay you much mind.”
And, visiting Section 8 Woods is something you can do in an hour or two. You don’t need to pack in provisions.
“Binoculars, would be a real nice thing,” Massey said. “Just sit there quietly. It’s hard to keep kids quiet. If you just sit there quietly for a few minutes, you’ll start to hear things and see things. The longer you can sit there quiet, the more things you’ll see and experience.
“There is just a symphony out there if you’ll listen to them.”
Section 8 Woods was dedicated a nature preserve in 1990.
For more information on the site, call (618) 634-2545.
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