The LaRue-Pine Hills/Otter Pond Research Natural Area, Shawnee National Forest, Union County, Illinois, is bisected by Forest Road 345, which is closed twice annually, in spring and
autumn, for snake migrations. The road is colloquially known as Snake Road.
The biannual ‘Snake Migration’ is across the LaRue Road at the base of the bluffs, adjacent to LaRue Swamp. The road is closed to vehicular traffic every spring and fall to help protect thousands of reptiles and amphibians during their migration between their summer and winter habitats. About 66 percent of the amphibians and 59 percent of the reptiles known to occur in Illinois are found here (approximately 35 species of snakes). Approximately 90 percent of the Illinois mammal species and 173 bird species inhabit the RNA. It is an important resting area for migratory birds and waterfowl. Some unusual animals and birds that make LaRue-Pine Hills their home include the bobcat, bald eagle, spring cavefish, eastern woodrat, golden mouse, Mississippi kite, and indigo bunting.
Protecting the Reptile and Amphibian Population
The yearly migration involves the hibernation of the animals during the winter months in the bluffs. These animals then move to their feeding grounds in the swamp during the summer months. Herpetologists have reported that the main factor in triggering the seasonal migration is ground temperature. This road was open to traffic year-round prior to 1972.
This resulted in the death of many animals that were crossing the road. Consequently, the Forest Service decided to close a 2.5-mile segment of the road during the seasonal migration to protect the reptiles and amphibians. The road is now being closed for two months in the spring and fall to further ensure the protection of early or late migrating species. The number of animals protected by this action is unknown, however, far fewer reptiles and amphibians are found dead on the road.
The closure dates are March 15 to May 15 in the spring and September 1 to October 30 in the fall.
Collecting of any kind is prohibited.
Length: Snake Road is 2.5 miles
Walking Time: 1 – 2 hours (one-way)
Difficulty Level: Easy Surface Type: Gravel
Facilities: Small parking lot at Winters
Recommended Season: Spring and fall
Pond can accommodate up to 15 vehicles.
Access: From Jonesboro: Take Highway 146 west 8 miles to Highway 3; then north 8 miles on Highway 3 to Muddy Levee Road. Then east 3 miles to LaRue Rd., at the ‘T’ turn right into Winters Pond parking lot.
From Murphysboro: Take Highway 149 west 7 miles to Highway 3; then south 14 miles on Highway 3 to Muddy Levee Road. Then east 3 miles to LaRue Rd., at the ‘T’ turn right into Winters Pond parking lot.
Safety: Poisonous snakes are in the area. If you encounter any snake avoid being bitten by slowing moving away. Collection or removal of any snake species is prohibited. Gathering, herding, harassing or having any snake in possession is also prohibited.
Surrounding Area: Clear Springs Wilderness, Oakwood Bottoms Greentree Reservoir, River to River Trail and Pine Hills Campground.
Emergencies: The nearest hospital is St. Joseph’s in Murphysboro. The nearest public phone is in Grand Tower.
Common names of some of the species are:
Spiny Softshell Northern Red-Bellied Snake Spotted Salamander Chorus Frog
Slimy Salamander Broadheaded Skink Eastern Hognose Snake Red Milk Snake
Midland Water Snake Western Ribbon Snake Eastern Rough Green Snake Eastern Garter Snake
Western Lesser Siren Marbled Salamander Small-Mouthed Salamander Midwest Worm Snake
Central Newt Zigzag salamander Long-Tailed Salamander Black Rat Snake
Cave Salamander American Toad Fowler’s Toad Copperhead
Blanchard’s Cricket Frog Northern Spring Peeper Eastern Grey Treefrog Black Racer
Bullfrog Green Frog Southern Leopard Frog Midland Brown Snake
Common Snapping Turtle Stinkpot Turtle Eastern Box Turtle Ringneck Snake
Eastern Painted Turtle Red-Eared Turtle Northern Fence Lizard King Snake
Ground Skink Western CottonMouth Five Lined Skink
Western Earth Snake Western Mud Snake Diamond-Backed Water Snake
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