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Spoon River Valley Bicycling



Welcome to the Spoon River Region!

District 4 covers a region from the Peoria area west to the Mississippi River at the Iowa border. Counties covered are Fulton, Henderson, Knox, Marshall, McDonough, Mercer, Peoria, Putnam, Stark, Tazewell, Warren, and Woodford as well as portions of adjacent counties.

While you are cycling, we invite you to stop and take in many of the scenic and historic wonders of this region.

The Terrain

This area is defined by rivers: the Illinois to the east, the Mississippi to the west, and the Spoon River through the middle. It is this last river that has been immortalized by local poet Edgar Lee Masters who wrote Spoon River Anthology about life in a fictionalized Lewistown, his boyhood home. The first inhabitants of this region, the Algonquin people, called this river “Amoquonsippi” meaning “shell” or “spoon” plus “river”. The broad valley hides a number of historic villages, old bridges, and a few surviving grist mills.

Of the eastern boundary of Region 4 is the Illinois River Valley and Peoria, Central Illinois’ largest city. The Peoria region sits atop many high and scenic bluffs overlooking Illinois’ most important river.

Lakes, Rivers, and Streams

Both the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers are major water transportation corridors. Large barges filled with grain from farms all over the Midwest move down these rivers to feed the world. But these rivers and the Spoon offer recreational opportunities as well, such as fishing, boating, sailing, and swimming.

The Spoon River itself offers a much more intimate experience with water and the people living along its banks. The river meanders past scenic Victorian villages with white-steepled churches and old blacksmith businesses.

Other rivers, streams, and lakes have public access points. Notable is Argyle Lake, nestled in a series of low, wooded hills, and found just west of Macomb in a state park named after the lake.

Plants and Animals

Like much of Illinois, this area was covered by vast prairie, broken by wooded areas near rivers, streams, and more hilly regions. Most of the prairie has been converted to farm land, although a few isolated patches remain. Wooded areas are primarily deciduous hardwoods. Few pines grow native in this region. Watch out for poison ivy; it is rampant is Illinois hardwood forests.

Predominant crops are corn and soybeans planted in vast plots. Other crops include hay, alfalfa, wheat, and fruit groves.

Most wildlife is concentrated along river and streambeds where much of remaining Illinois timber still stands. Besides squirrels and skunks, foxes and coyotes roam the rural areas. Gone are the mountain lions, wolves, and bears which used to inhabit most of the state. The bison (buffalo) used to roam the prairie areas in vast numbers but disappeared early in the 19th century.

Near the rivers are waterfowl such as ducks, geese, herons, and other species on migration routes. The Illinois River valley has become a winter nestling area for the Bald Eagle, our national symbol.

Poisonous snakes are very rare in this part of Illinois. You are more likely to encounter such harmless species as bull and garter snakes, as well as, an endless variety of frogs and toads.

Conservation and Recreation Areas

The State of Illinois manages a number of scenic natural areas where hiking, fishing, camping, and picnicking can be enjoyed in natural settings. Although many sites have trails, please note that bicycles are not allowed on any unpaved trails unless otherwise indicated.


Historic Sites

As in most of the United States, Native Americans were the first to leave their mark on this land. Parts of these pre-history cultures are preserved at the Dixon Mounds State Museum in Fulton County.

In the 17th and 18th century the French explored and claimed these lands. The most famous French explorers were Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet in 1673. Small French settlements sprouted along the Mississippi River, the first of which appeared in 1699 as French mission (modern-day Cahokia) and was the first permanent European settlement in Illinois. Farther north on the Illinois River, a settlement near present-day Peoria was formed by the French.

The Spoon River valley is rich in 19th century history and lore. Here is the birthplace of the famous poet Edgar Lee Masters who wrote about this area in his Spoon River Anthology. Much from this past era remains preserved in towns and villages in this sleepy river valley.

Bicycle Paths, Rides, and Routes

One long recreational trail exists in Region 4: the Rock Island State Trail. The 27-mile trail, part of an abandoned railroad line, extends from Peoria’s north end north and west to Toulon in central Stark county. A planned extension south will carry this trail into Peoria. The fine limestone surface is suitable for bicycles and hikers.

Many shorter bike facilities are found in the Peoria area. In Peoria is the Pimiteoui Trail, a five-mile multiuse trail adjacent to the Illinois River. When completed, this trail will be a 20-mile system connecting to other existing and proposed area trails. Just across the river in East Peoria is the River Trail of Illinois, a 5-mile multiuse trail.

Fulton County is a wonderful place to ride the back roads. The low-volume roads and rolling terrain offer a scenic yet moderately challenging bike ride in one of the most charming rural areas in Illinois.

Enjoy your trip!