All about prairie conservation efforts in Central Illinois

Feb 14, 2009

From the Archive: Retaining the dignity of the Embarras River

This is one of the many articles contributed by the Prairie Monk for publication in the WEFT Revue.  It appears on this blog as part of an ongoing project to archive Monk's writings and make them more accessible to the community.

The Embarras River rises in a geological saddle created by the Champaign Moraine to the north, the Pesotum Moraine to the west and the Yankee Ridge Moraine to the east. (These moraines were left by slowly melting glaciers that dropped their rock and rubble load over 10,000 years ago. The resultant gravel ridges are the dominant features of our undulating prairie landscape.)

The headwaters of the Embarras reach back to Mattis Park in the west and to Meadowbrook Park in the east. The river is also contained by, and augmented by runoff from, the Pesotum Moraine, which is west of Savoy.

The headwater streams coalesce in the vicinity of the university farms. The growing river then meanders gently south, sandwiched between the continuing Yankee Ridge and Pesotum moraines.

The Embarras was probably a series of swamps before it was drained by early settlers. Even so, it is a relatively natural river, and its tributaries have fortunately remained relatively free of the channelization (ditching) that often accompanies development. This is partly due to the river's location south of town and the occupancy of large tracts of the watershed by the University of Illinois and park districts, but it is also due to many people, including farmers, who have battled to keep this river natural. By comparison, its counterpart to the west, the Kaskaskia, is practically a straight-line channelized drain.

You are encouraged to think about this river and how its dignity can be retained. This is especially so as the U of I moves into a period of replanning for the south farms. In keeping with growing concerns for nature conservation, the U of I is giving generous consideration to retaining the natural state of the river while augmenting its greenway character with trails and quiet recreational areas. The park districts have already indicated their interest by developing trails and natural areas. Consider familiarizing yourself with the upper reaches of the Embarras so you can contribute your understanding to the preservation and utilization of this significant feature of our local landscape heritage.

The Embarras can be accessed at Fox Drive, Mattis Park and Windsor Road, Champaign; the Arbor Meadows, Winfield Village, Lake Park and South First Street, Savoy; Meadowbrook Park and South Race Street, Urbana; and (visually) at all east/west county section roads that cross the stream as it heads south.

Ode to a swollen creek

Racing water

swirling loudly,

over log jams

causing damming.

Water flowing

over spillways

hoping for

an otter's play.

Freezing spray

for lacy touches,

humps of ice

for sculptured structure.

A place for dogs

to find new treasures

belly high in

icy water.

Water slowing,

rapids dying,

bubbles bursting

ripples smoothing.

Down-stream water

quietly resting

where, in summer,

boatmen stride.

Trees and bushes


in the fading light

of evening.

Banks retreating

into darkness,

wardens of another day.

Cooling air and

fond farewells.

Twigs are breaking


Sounds of water

quickly fade.

We will come

another day

to listen to

your minstrel play.

— The WEFT Revue, Volume 7, Issue 2: March-April 1999, p.7.

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