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Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish and Wildlife Area

Category: Parks
General Info
10149 County Hwy. 11
(217) 452 2774

A 26-square mile tract situated in the gently rolling countryside of west-central Illinois, Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish & Wildlife Area (JEPC) is one of the Department's largest public access areas.

A mosaic of mature forest land, agricultural land and grassland, Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish & Wildlife Area is dissected by Panther and Cox creeks and their tributaries. In addition to 6,000 acres of timberland and 4,200 acres of prime farmland, Site M contains a rare hill prairie. It also is home to a rich assortment of wildlife, from endangered species that include Indiana bat, northern harrier and re-shouldered hawk, to such game species white-tailed deer, wild turkey, ring-necked pheasant and mourning dove.


Settled and farmed by the mid-1800s, the contiguous farmsteads that composed Jim Edgar Panther Creek were purchased from 1968-1974 by Commonwealth Edison for development of a coal-fired, electric-power generating plant and a 5,000-acre cooling lake. The company named the 16,550 -acre tract 'Site M' for nearby Menard County where coal to fuel the power plant was to mined.

Commonwealth Edison leased about half of the acreage for cropland, and through a cooperative agreement with the Department of Natural Resources, also provided limited upland and forest game hunting. Through the years, hunters applying for permits to the area became well-acquainted with the Site M name.

Commonwealth Edison abandoned its plans to build a power plant at Site M in the 1980s, citing decreased electrical demands, and offered the land for sale. By virtue of its size and location, Site M became an unparalleled opportunity for the Department of Natural Resources to address critical conservation needs and meet outdoor recreation demands. With funds specifically designated for conservation purposes, the state of Illinois added the acreage to the public trust in June 1993, making Site M the largest tract ever acquired by the Department. Hereafter Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish & Wildlife Area shall be referred to as JEPC.

Effective January 1, 2001, Panther Creek Conservation area was absorbed into JEPC in an effort to avoid confusion and simplify site regulations. This brings the total acres of JEPC to 16,550. This portion of the site will be known as the West Open Unit.

Conservation Efforts

Forests, confined primarily to steep terrain, cover 6,000 acres of JEPC. Common hardwood species include American elm, black walnut, black cherry and several types of oaks, including white, black and bur. Because the timberland was affected by extensive logging and grazing through the years, the Department is managing this area to enhance its forest wildlife habitat.

Scattered pockets of wetlands at JEPC are associated with upland depressions, farm ponds and drainage ways. Common plants in these areas include long-leaved and horned pondweed, duckweed, rice cutgrass, reed canary grass and bulrush, as well as black willow. A severely degraded segment of Cox and Panther creeks, near their confluence in the northwestern portion of the site, has undergone stream bank stabilization and is part of a model watershed project to improve the Illinois River system.

Because agriculture on a lease basis is an integral management component for conservation and fiscal purposes, about 4,200 acre of JEPC are leased as cropland to farmers using conservation-oriented agricultural practices.

Two man made wetlands were constructed in 1999 as part of the road construction project. Since 1993, when the state began to manage the area, 1200 acres of native grass, 820 acres of cool season grass, 180 acres of habitat strips, and 105 acres of trees have been planted in land that was once agriculture fields or pasture. An additional 670 acres have been idled and allowed to move towards forest through natural succession.

Hunting | Non-Resident Archery Deer Application

JEPC features hunting for white-tailed deer, wild turkey and mourning dove, as well as upland species (pheasant, quail, woodcock, snipe and rabbit), furbearers (raccoon, opossum, red fox, gray fox, striped skunk and coyote) and squirrels. Season dates and hours, permit requirements and other regulations are published in the Illinois Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations and in the JEPC Hunting Digest, available through the Department of Natural Resources.

A notable aspect of JEPC's hunting opportunities is its participation in the Department of Natural Resources Quality Deer Management Program. At JEPC and other IDNR sites designated as Quality Deer Management area, only antlerless deer or deer with a minimum of four points on one side may be taken during the archery and firearm deer seasons. The program protects 1- and 2-year-old bucks to provide future opportunities for harvesting trophy-size deer, while managing local herds through the taking of does and other antlerless deer.

Six sunflowers areas are situated throughout JEPC to accommodate dove hunting. Wheat fields in these areas are also burned to attract doves. Dove hunting for the first ten days is by special drawing. The first five days the drawing is by permit from Springfield. Unfilled hunter quotas are filled by Site drawing days 1-5 and the entire hunting quota on days 6-10. The site drawing occurs at 11:00AM each day.

The hunter check station, which is located in a former farmhouse on County Highway 11, handles all hunting administrative functions. All hunters must register at the site office once per year and receive a free vehicle pass which allows hunters access to the site for the entire season.

A lottery drawing will be held at the JEPC site office to distribute non-resident archery deer permits for one week seasons from October 21st through November 17th, 2005. Applications must be received by March 31, 2005. The seasons are as follows:

1st Season: October 21st through October 27, 2005

2nd Season: October 28th through November 3, 2005

3rd Season: November 4th through November 10, 2005

4th Season: November 11th through November 17, 2005

Hunter Fact Sheet | Non-Resident Archery Application

Fishing | Boating | Canoeing

Sport fishing opportunities are available at JEPC at Gridley Lake, 25 acres, opened 1998, Prairie Lake, 210 acres, opened 2002, and Drake Lake, 35 acres opened in 2003. Several ponds within the site have also been renovated.

Stream fishes include largemouth bass, bluegill and green sunfish, along with shiners, chubs and minnows. In addition to the stated fish species, Prairie Lake is also stocked with Muskie.

Currently trolling motors and canoe access are allowed at Gridley and Drake Lakes. Prairie lake has unlimited horsepower with a no-wake zone for the entire lake. Sail boats are allowed.


Picnic areas and restrooms are located at Gridley Lake, Drake Lake, Painter pond, Geiss pond, and the Prairie Lake day use area. Shelters are reservable for a fee of $25 or if not reserved they can be used on a first come first serve basis.


24 miles of mountain bike trail are available in two loops and a connection trail. The Prairie lake loop is 17 miles, the Drake Lake Loop is 5 miles, and two miles of trail connect the two. It is open noon to dusk April 16th - May 15th and sunrise until sunset May 16th - October 31st. November 1st - April 15th the trail is closed to all mountain bikes but is available for hikers. The trail is very scenic with forest and grassland portions and many times views the lake. It also has a lot of roll to it which is unusual for central Illinois.

Horseback Riding

A 22-car/trailer parking lot, along with a 26-mile trail, are located in the northwest corner of JEPC on Questing Hills Road just off County Highway 2. A second access to the equestrian trail is found at Q-4 parking lot which is situated between the 9 mile north loop trail and the southern 11 and 6 mile loops. April 16th - May 15th the trail is open noon until dusk. May 16th - October 31st trails are open sunrise to sunset. Trails are closed November 1st - April 15th each year.


For hikers, off-trail hiking is also available. Parking areas are positioned off public roads throughout the site. A 52 site Class A equestrian campground opened in July of 1999 as well as an additional 22 car/trailer lot between the 9 mile and 17 mile segments of the trail off Creek Road.

Because unmarked open wells may exist in the area, caution must be used by all individuals visiting JEPC.

A three mile hiking and jogging trail opened fall of 1999 around the lake shore at Gridley lake. Seventeen miles of new hiking and mountain bike trail opened April 16, 2001 around Prairie lake. Seven more miles of mountain bike/hiking were opened in 2003 around Drake Lake and connecting to the Prairie Lake trail.

Natural Heritage

An outstanding example of the original loess hill prairies of central Illinois is JEPC's Cox Creek Hill Prairie Natural Area. The 175-acre site encompasses remnants of scattered hill prairies composed of loess (windblown silt), which occur within forest openings on steep terrain where soils are droughty and well-drained. Among the plant species found on loess hill prairies are little bluestem, side-oats grama, fringed puccoon, wild petunia and prairie dock.

Several rare Illinois plant species grow here. The small white lady's-slipper orchid has state-endangered status, while four other plants are listed as state-threatened species: the savanna blazing star, the pale false foxglove, large-seeded mercury and Hill's thistle.

Surveys have identified 87 species of breeding birds here as well. Among the notable residents are eastern bluebird, orchard oriole and lark sparrow, plus 11 warbler species, five types of woodpecker and three species of owl. Loggerhead shrikes, a threatened species in Illinois, have been observed at the site, as have endangered northern harriers and red-shouldered hawks.


All of the new campground is now open at Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish and Wildlife Area near Chandlerville in Cass County. Nine rent-a-cabins are available for reservation and use on a first-come, first served basis. The cabins are located on the shoreline of Prairie Lake at the site. They include two rooms and a covered porch, can sleep six with two sets of bunk beds and a double bed, feature a table and chairs inside and a picnic table and fire grill outside. The cabins are heated, have electrical outlets and ceiling fans. They can be reserved for a $5 fee and are available for use at the rate of $40 per night. To reserve a cabin, call the site office at 217/452-7741, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m.- 4 p.m. Reservations must be made by Tuesday at 3:00 PM for any date the rest of that week. Reservations can be cancelled with three days written notice with the camping fee returned minus the reservation fee.

A Class AA campground is available with 18 sites that have sewer drops and water hookups at individual sites and 64 class A sites. A new shower building is also available. No Reservations are being accepted for the Class AA or the Class A sites.

The primitive camping area at Jim Edgar Panther Creek is also open. Seven three-sided shelters are available to camp near or camp in for a fee of $6 per night. Hikers and mountain bike riders must travel approximately a quarter mile from the nearest parking lot to access the shelters.

Day Use

The Park has shelters in the following areas: Prairie Lake Day Use Area (has a fireplace), Gridley Lake Day Use Area, Geiss Pond Day Use Area, Painter Pond Day Use Area. These areas are reservable for a $25 non-refundable fee.


Located in Cass County 25 miles northwest of Springfield off State Illinois Route 125, 10 miles northeast of Virginia, 10 miles west of Petersburg and New Salem State Historic Site, and 10 miles northwest of Ashland.

Access JEPC from Interstate 72 by taking the Ashland/Jim Edgar Panther Creek exit at State Route 123 and traveling north through Ashland to State Route 125 then west to Newmansville Road.

Travelers on Interstate 55 have easy access to JEPC by taking the Sherman exit to Veterens Parkway then west on 97 to the interection with 125. Continue west on 125 through Pleasant Plains and past Ashland. Just west of Ashland turn north on Newmansville Road and folllow the signs.

Visitors approaching the site from the north west and expecially equestrian campers who will be using the equestrian campground located on the north west corner of the site should use HWY 78 south to just north of Chandlerville. Turn at the brown and white JEPC sign to the east and follow the signs to the destination of your choice.