Animal watching is a top priority at Edward R. Madigan State Park

Chris Young

For hunters, a “deer drive” is a cooperative effort to force deer into the open. At Edward R. Madigan State Park just outside Lincoln, a deer drive is a much more relaxed affair.

At dusk, it’s not unusual to see minivans with families, senior citizens and even wistful sportsmen all driving slowly through the park hoping to watch the deer come out to play.

Site manager Ron Willmore says that after picnicking and pitching horseshoes at the pavilions, watching wildlife is one of the most popular park uses.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, wildlife watching has become one of the top forms of outdoor recreation in the United States. In Illinois, more than 2.5 million people watched wildlife in 2006, the last year the survey was completed.

That includes birdwatchers — both in backyards and in the field — and even those who like to take an evening drive to look for deer or other critters.

All those folks spent a little over $1 billion on travel, binoculars and other equipment.

“You can see pheasants, and you can see turkeys,” says Willmore of wildlife at Madigan State Park. “And there are lots of different types of songbirds.”

Willmore says the park has a resident deer herd of about 100 individuals.

During upland game season, the park allows small-game hunting for pheasants, bobwhite quail and rabbits every Monday in November and December.

“It’s a free upland game hunt, but (the hunters) had to enter a computerized drawing by late August,” he says.

There is no deer hunting in the park, and Willmore says some animals have learned the park provides sanctuary.

“There are a certain number of deer that stay in the park,” he says. “Once (farmers) pick the agricultural crops in the fields that border the park, they tend to move into the park for the rest of the fall.”

The park used to be known as Railsplitter State Park, but was named in honor of Edward R. Madigan in 1995. Madigan was a former Illinois state representative, congressman and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture who died in 1994.

The site is nearly 1,000 acres in size and is located along the Salt Creek on the south side of Lincoln.

The park offers hiking trails that meander through the Salt Creek bottoms among large sycamore trees. A fitness trail also is available.

Pets are allowed, but must be on a leash. Salt Creek is open for fishing and canoeing.

For more information, call the park at (217) 732-1552.

Chris Young can be reached at (217) 788-1528