One of the most unique and precious places in the natural world, Bell Smith Springs in Southern Illinois is a an essential destination for anyone interested in native ecology and local history. It is designated a National Natural Landmark by the U.S. Park Service, a Natural Area by the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission, and a recreation area by the U. S. Forest Service. This gorgeous canyon and its surrounding watershed have been studied by scientists and enjoyed by visitors for generations. 

Untold thousands of citizens have visited this piece of public property through the years to observe the rare phenomenon of interconnected, complete, functioning ecosystems. There are four creeks which come together in the canyon at Bell Smith Springs; and even when the creeks are parched there are a dozen ice-cold spring pools which never go dry. The unique hydrology of the canyon contributes to its vegetative diversity. There are over 700 species of plants which grow at Bell Smith Springs.

Native Americans utilized the canyon for its abundant water and huge shelter bluffs. Early settlers farmed the ridge tops; grazed livestock on the hill sides; and harnessed Hill Branch Creek to power a grist mill. The massive trees of the virgin forest were felled during this time. The cougar, wood bison, bear, elk, and many other species which once drank from the pools have long since been extirpated.  But bobcat, turkey, deer, fox, a plethora of songbirds and other animals are still glimpsed at Bell Smith Springs.

The rugged, isolated topography of parts of the canyon served as a repository for species which have disappeared from many other places. The netted chain fern is found in upland areas of the watershed, its fruiting bodies rising the foliage. Pale, greenish, spongy-looking tufts of sphagnum moss line the sides of some north-facing slopes. Rosy blooms of the flower-of-the-hour appear in arid patches, display their short-lived beauty, then wither away within a couple of hours. The rare French’s shooting star occur in drip lines of the bluffs. Alder trees tap their roots deep in the cold soil adjacent to spring pools.

There are lichen grass hoppers, endangered crayfish, and unusual minnows which inhabit the cliffs, rocks, and pristine water. During the decades that these hills and hollows have been protected as public land, natural regeneration has restored much of the area’s biological diversity. Continued protection and respect for the land will insure its survival for future generations.  Anyone who has ever spent time at Bell Smith Springs knows this is a special place which deserves to be preserved and protected.

Yet hiking, photography, swimming, picnicking, and a host of other low impact activities are enjoyed by visitors to Bell Smith Springs. Camping is leisurely in Red Bud Campground, situated just above the canyon.  Hunting and fishing are allowed in season with a license. Visit this beautiful place to get a glimpse of the natural world which was once common, but now is rare.

Follow signs from Delwood, Eddyville or Ozark; call 1-800-MY WOODS, or 
e-mail bellsmithsprings@hotmail for more information.

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Last edited: 08/03/05

 This page last updated: 09/08/10 . Website maintained by Bob Pauls.
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