The area that is Sand Ridge State Forest is the result of a prehistoric dry period when more desert-like conditions existed. Today, it remains one of the few places in Illinois that supports an intriguing variety of plants and animals more associated with the southwest than the Midwest, including badger, silvery bladderpod, pocket gopher and prickly pear cactus, to name a few.
The raw, undeveloped expanses of hardwood and pine blanketing the panoramic vistas contain miles of outstanding hiking, backpacking, snowmobiling and horseback riding opportunities. Hunting of deer, turkey, pheasant, quail, dove and squirrel is permitted. A hand trap shooting facility and an archery range are available.
For the dedicated outdoors person, Sand Ridge State Forest is an island of opportunity to experience the diversity of Illinois. For the day visitor, the forest offers picnic facilities and the chance for immersion in nature in the Henry Allen Gleason Nature Preserve. Enjoy the pristine sand prairie in a protected area closed to vehicles, domestic animals and hunting.
A bird watcher's paradise, Sand Ridge State Forest also is an important nesting area for a great variety of neotropical migratory birds, such as ovenbird, indigo bunting, veery and scarlet tanager.
Fifteen thousand years ago the flood waters of the last glaciation period receded down the Illinois River valley, leaving a vast deposit of sand from near Pekin to past Beardstown and as far west as San Jose. A subsequent period of extreme dryness and warmth invited plants and animals of the southwestern states to extend their range. Shifting winds sculpted 100-foot-high sand dunes evident today as the now wooded ridges for which the forest is named.
In 1939, 5,504 acres of this forested tract was purchased by the state to be managed by the Division of Forestry as an experimental forest. The Civilian Conservation Corps planted pine trees to control erosion and demonstrate the viability of growing a commercial tree crop in sandy soil. The current 2,492 acres of pine plantations produce sawlog-size timber for Illinois' future needs. The native oak-hickory forest is selectively utilized for a firewood cutting program. Firewood collection is allowed at specific periods during the year.
In 1971, the Division of Land Management took over management of the site and the area became known as Sand Ridge State Forest. Today, the forest covers 7,500 acres—3,996 acres of native oak-hickory forest, 2,492 acres of pine and the rest in open fields and sand prairies.