View of the Mississippi River and backwater sloughs from Casper Bluff Land and Water Reserve

Eagles and Prairies and Effigy Mounds! Oh My!

February 2017 Newsletter

Breathtaking views of the Mississippi River, bald eagles soaring in the sky above, a rich diversity of habitats—oak savannas and prairies—and flashes of deep blue as Eastern Bluebirds flutter in and out of nesting boxes. It’s easy to see why the Jo Daviess Conservation Foundation (JDCF) jumped at the chance to protect this beautiful land in Galena, Illinois: the Casper Bluff Land and Water Reserve. But like many other nature reserves, Casper Bluff serves significant cultural and ecological purposes as well.

Eastern Bluebird in flight.  Photo credit: Richard Hurd

In fact, Casper Bluff has the only known intact Thunderbird effigy mound remaining in Illinois. Effigy mounds—raised piles of Earth in the shape of animals—were created by the Effigy Moundbuilders, a native woodland culture that existed between 700 and 1,000 A.D. They used the effigy mounds to conduct religious and social ceremonies, “from birth celebrations to funeral rites and everything in between.”Archeologists have also identified many conical and linear mounds at Casper Bluff, some of which can also been seen when walking the trails.The discovery of these mounds has been extremely important to our understanding of  Native American culture in the region. And thanks to the JDCF, the mounds will be forever protected.

Thunderbird effigy at Casper Bluff Land and Water Reserve; Photo credit: Jennifer Tigges

Protected reserves along the Mississippi River, like Casper Bluff Land and Water Reserve, can have many important ecological benefits as well. For many years, the land that is now protected was used for agriculture. But the JDCF, with help from The Prairie Enthusiasts and many volunteers, is restoring the land to its native prairie and oak savanna habitats. This is very important for the health of the Mississippi River as agricultural pollution is the biggest threat to the River and native grasses, plants and trees found in these prairies and oak savannas help to stabilize the soil and prevent agricultural run-off pollution from entering the River and polluting it.

Casper Bluff Land and Water Preserve is one of those wonderful places along the Mississippi River that provides visitors with unique natural and cultural experiences while at the same time helping to improve the health of the River. River Citizens, 1 Mississippi would like to learn about places like Casper Bluff in your area. Please email me at to let us know!

Your Friend and Fellow River Citizen,


1 Jo Davies Conservation Foundation. Casper Bluff Land and Water Reserve Guide.