Coal mining has long been a part of the Illinois economy. Today, there is less mining of coal but the pits they left behind yield another benefit. Many are being mined for fish.
Historians tell us that Joliet and Marquette found coal in LaSalle County. Strip mining probably began around the 1800’s. We overlook the place those strip pits play in the recreation of the state.
Federal and state laws now require the reclamation of land disturbed by the strip mine operations. A concerted effort has been underway for some time within the state to reclaim land disturbed by past mining operations.
Many former strip mine pits are in private hands and are used as private lakes for development and recreation. Many public lakes have been developed by coal companies in cooperation with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and other state agencies.
The restoration can involve stock piling the upper soil layers, segregating and burying potentially toxic material, reshaping earth piles to approximately the original contours of the land. Soil is re-spread and vegetative cover is established. It is a difficult and costly procedure but one mandated by law.
Often the pits filled with water and had to be pumped out in order to mine the coal they contained. When coal operations ceased, the pits just filled up.
The water is usually very clear and biologists tell us that the ph in the water is often optimum for the production of fish. This has led to some official and some “unofficial” stocking. Because the pit is so deep, it provides a rather deceptive appearance as to the amount of water it might contain.
A pit with a small surface acreage can hold much more water and, as a consequence many more fish, than a similar farm pond with the same surface size. The clear water allows vegetation to grow much deeper and produce more oxygen than would otherwise be the case.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources has long identified the importance of these coal strip pits for recreational fishing activity.
Located just off Interstate 74 in Vermillion County, Kickapoo State Park is near the town of Danville. The once scarred land now provides some 2,842 acres of land used regularly by the public. It contains some twenty-two deep water ponds, ranging is size from .2 acres to 57 acres. Lush forest, uplands and bottomland along the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River are home to birds, wildlife and flowers. Picnic and camping facilities are available in addition to hunting and fishing activities.
Anglers can fish for largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, crappie, channel catfish, or bluegills which reproduce naturally in the lake. Each spring catchable trout are stocked in the lakes.
Kickapoo was the first public park in the nation built on strip mined land and one of the first to be subsidized through public contributions. For more information contact, IDNR, Kickapoo State Park, Park Office, R.R.#1, Box 374, Oakwood, IL 61858. The phone number is 217-442-4915.
Pyramid State Park gets its name from the coal mine that once existed there. The 350 acres of water range in size from 1/10th acre to 24 acres in size.
Located four miles northwest of Pinckneyville in Perry County, it is accessible via State Route 152. Largemouth bass, bluegill, channel catfish and sunfish can be found in these waters. For more information contact the Site Superintendent, Pyramid State Park, R.R. 1, Box 290, Pinckneyville, IL 62274. The phone number is 618-357-2574.
In southeastern Jefferson County and northwestern Hamilton County is Ten Mile Creek State Fish and Wildlife Area. The total acreage is 5,824 acres. Of that, 1,850 acres is reclaimed mining land.
Accessible by rural roads leading off State Route 142 or 14, there are 25 strip pit lakes. The lakes offer fishing for largemouth bass, channel catfish, crappie and bluegill. There is shore fishing and boat access on the lakes which run from three to 50 acres.
More information about Ten Mile Creek is available from the Site Superintendent, Ten Mile Creek, R.R. #1, Box 179, McLeansboro, IL 62859. The phone number is 618-643-2862.
Finally, there is Mazonia State Fish and Wildlife Area in Grundy County three miles southwest of Braidwood, Illinois. Accessible via State Route 53 and Huston Road, there is some 1,017 acres with 200 water impoundments ranging in size from 1/4 acre to 30 acres in size.
The impoundments contain good populations of largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, bluegill, green sunfish, crappie, channel catfish and bullhead.
More information is available from the Site Superintendent, Mazonia State Fish and Wildlife Area, P.O. Box 37, Bourbonnais, Illinois 60914. The phone number is 815-237-0063.
Strip mining, or open cut mining, was once thought to be death to an area. Modern methods of reclaiming the land, the laws that led to those methods, have resulted in many areas being available to the Illinois angler. Because of the excesses begun long ago, the public now has access to land that might otherwise not be available for outdoor recreation.