Hiking with Shawn
Have you ever been to Snake Road Illinois? It’s a forest road of a few miles that is closed to vehicle traffic two times a year so that snakes can safely migrate across.
Welcome to another edition of the Hiking with Shawnee Trail Journal, where I try to tell stories, historical accounts, legends, and lore of the places I recreate.
Today’s journal is focused on Snake Road Illinois, the infamous road that closes for the migration of snakes – many of which are venomous!
So, without further ado, let’s jump into it and see what this Snake Road Illinois is all about…
What is Snake Road Illinois?
Check out my free trail guide to learn more about Snake Road Illinois and how to reach it.
To summarize, Snake Road is a 2.5-mile Forest Service Road located within the LaRue Pine Hills Research Natural Area of the Shawnee National Forest. This area is managed by the US Forest Service in partnership with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. This is located in southern Illinois near Wolf Lake around Union and Jackson counties.
Twice annually, the road is closed (gated) on its north and south terminus, once during the spring and the other during the fall. This allows wildlife to safely cross the roadway for pre-migration and post-migration activities without being injured, disrupted, or killed by vehicle traffic. The road remains open to foot traffic. According to the US Forest Service Law Enforcement, vehicles, bicycles, and equestrians are prohibited from using the road during the closure.
During the spring closure, wildlife moves from the bluffs to the swamps. During the fall closure, the wildlife moves from the marshes back into the bluffs to hibernate during winter.
Most of the wildlife is snakes. There are over 20 species of snakes in that area. Three of the species are venomous pit vipers. They include the copperhead, cottonmouth, and timber rattlesnake.
Since the area is a designated Research Nature Area, federal law prohibits collections of any kind (including flora and mushrooms) or the handling/harassment of wildlife. Handling or collecting snakes is against the law and can result in fines and jail time. Handling may only occur by individuals who have been permitted to do it.
Snake Road Illinois is truly a unique road. Can you tell me about any other street in the world that closes two times a year for snake migrations?
Snake Road Illinois is an Important Place
The mission of Hiking with Shawn has always been pro-tourism. I want you to be able to visit and enjoy the places I write about, especially Snake Road Illinois. But it is vital that you visit with common sense in mind and preserve such a unique natural area.
If you visit Snake Road, practice Leave No Trace and stay on the road. Don’t litter. Don’t flip rocks and logs without putting back how you found them. Don’t stack rocks. Don’t use trails made by people away from the road.
I say all that because ecosystems of that area are so precious that by doing the stuff above, you potentially destroy ecosystems that we rely on to exist as a species.
And this is where my plea to quit hating snakes comes into play. Please, hear me out!
Do you know what wildlife kills more people than any other animal? It isn’t a snake. It isn’t a bear. It’s not lions. It’s not cats or dogs.
Rodents have been responsible for more human deaths than any other form of wildlife. And before you say mosquitoes, note that many diseases spread by those insects originated from rodents.
Rodents transmitted plague to humans and have resulted in many deaths of humans; many were children.
Did you know snakes are one of the best sources of rodent control? Many snakes eat rodents. Many of the snakes prefer rodents as their choice of meal.
If snake haters got their way and wiped out snakes, we would lose that defense against rodent control. Sure, we can use chemicals, but will those chemicals eventually hurt us? Common sense answers this – I don’t need to answer it.
But what about water moccasins? They eat fish so they can die, and it won’t matter to humans.
Water-based snakes like the cottonmouth help control the balance and ecosystems of fish and aquatic life. With all the invasive fish species (such as Asian Carp) destroying natural marine habitats, snakes help reduce the destruction. If we lose fish control methods (biological controls), we might lose our native water species.
Could you imagine that on top of a whole bunch of disease-carrying rodents? That’s way more of a nightmare than snakes!
Snakes have also been used to research critical medical breakthroughs such as ace inhibitors and breast cancer, which are associated with problems that kill more people than snakes.
And here is my final argument against snake hating…
Do you know what kills more people than snakes? This animal kills more children than snakes kill any age combined. Do you have an idea yet?
According to some sources, dogs kill an average of 30 to 50 humans each year. In 2021, more than 30 fatalities were caused by Pit Bulls. Pit Bulls often get a bad rep. Many people cry that they should be killed just for being a Pit Bull. That sounds a lot like a copperhead, rattlesnake, or any snake for that matter – kill them because they’re snakes.
Do you know how many people are killed by snakes each year?
30 to 50 versus 5. That’s a huge difference.
Now, one might suggest that we kill off dogs as a way to prevent human fatalities. Go around and run over every dog you see! There would be a public outcry if that happened. I love dogs and could never purposely kill one, even if it was suffering. I would have to have someone else do it. But how can we morally feel that way about an animal that kills up to 50 humans a year but not the animal that kills 5?
In the end, a snake is a wild animal. It is natural to the natural world and helps with the balance of nature. Interaction with a snake (or any wild animal) will most likely result in a negative outcome for you.
Before you hate snakes too much, could you answer these questions for me?
- Have snakes ever entered a school and opened fire on children?
- Have snakes ever invented a bomb that caused nuclear winters?
- Have snakes ever accused mentally ill people of sorcery and burned them at stake?
Hate yourself before hating a snake because our species has done and will always do worse than any snake.
And one more thing – some food for thought!
Snake Road Illinois has over 20 species of snakes; three are venomous, and their bites could be deadly to humans.
How many people have died from venomous snake bites in Illinois? I’m talking solely about Illinois. You know, the state with a road with an enormous number of snakes.
Guess what? There is no number. There is also no recorded fatality in Illinois for at least 200 years.
Yeah… TWO CENTURIES PLUS!
So, common sense tells me that snake hate isn’t very common sense.
In my opinion, Snake haters are worse for this world’s existence than snakes, and you can quote me on that!
History of Snake Road Illinois
Snake Road Illinois, in terms of the closures, goes back to 1972 when the Forest Service started closing the gates for migration to occur safely. The closure has changed over time, and there are set dates based on scientific findings. Closures can occur earlier, and openings can occur later, pending the regional climate and how it has impacted migration.
During the non-closure periods, the use is used by game hunters and recreational travelers. The road should be closed year-round with no opening dates. Not everyone will agree, but protecting the snakes is more important than opening the road. There are plenty of roads to use and spots to hunt without the need to open the road.
The geological and natural history of Snake Road Illinois and LaRue Pine Hills is also worth noting. Limestone bluffs more than 350 feet in height are scattered across the eastern side of Snake Road. Manufactured swamps and natural river bottoms stretch alongside the western side of the road.
The Forest Service describes the area as “LaRue-Pine Hills’ unique physical characteristics dictate and support rich biodiversity not found elsewhere in the country. The area covers about 4.5 square miles (3547 acres) and contains 14 natural communities including forests, wetlands, prairie, glades, and barren ecosystems and geologic features.”
The geological history of the area of Snake Road Illinois is noted to have started several million years ago when most of Illinois was covered by the Illinois Basin, which can be defined as an ancient sea. The sandy shores of the sea eventually created the limestone and sandstone bluffs that we see around the Shawnee National Forest today. These bluffs are the most ancient relics of the entire region. They’re older than people or living things. They’re older than dinosaurs! Wind and water eventually created most of the rock formations, natural bridges, and what we see today. Natural events such as earthquakes and fault movements continue to shape these natural areas.
Snake Road is a part of the LaRue Pine Hills area. Pine Hills comes from the native-growing Short Leaf Pine Trees in the area. Piney Creek Ravine also hosts these native pines. Other pines growing in southern Illinois are not native, and most were planted for erosion control during the Civilian Conservation Corps creation of the National Forest in the 1930s and 40s.
According to previously written literature on Ghost Towns in Jackson County, Larue was once a village located where Snake Road is. Some foundations of previous structures can be seen along the road during leaf-off seasons. Larue got its name from the Larue swamp nearby. Even in the early 1900s, when the town was peaking, waterfowl and rattlesnakes infested the swamp. Larue was a small village of about 12 houses, a sawmill, and a general store. The town was rough and often violent, as most sawmill towns were. The peak population was about 100 residents. The town diminished and turned into a Ghost Town when the sawmill operations depleted all the timber in the area. Most of the trees within LaRue Pine Hills are second-growth.
It is worth noting that the area of LaRue Pine Hills shares a common ancient history of some of the first people in Illinois. These are the Mississippian Native Americans. Nearby Snake Road Illinois is Big Hill, commonly referred to as Fountain Bluff. Various sites within Big Hill contain petroglyphs (rock art) created by the Mississippian and Late Woodland periods. This whole area is sacred land.
Could you imagine that Snake Road Illinois has that much history?
Thank you for reading another one of my Trail Journals. Remember to check out the free trail guide for Snake Road in case you wish to visit one day. Be sure to subscribe to my free newsletter for more exclusive articles and content like this. You can easily unsubscribe at any time.
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Thanks again for checking out another one of my articles and until next time, I’ll see you on the trail!
Founder, Hiking with Shawn
Howdy folks! My name is Shawn Gossman and I founded Hiking with Shawn. I’m an avid hiker, cyclist and outdoorsman here in the Shawnee National Forest. I was born and raised in Southern Illinois and never want to leave. Click here to learn more about Shawn Gossman