The J.T. Nickel Family Nature & Wildlife Preserve is the largest privately protected conservation area in the Ozarks. The preserve was formed in 2000 as the result of a land gift from the John Nickel family and is owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy. Adjoining the Illinois River in eastern Oklahoma, the preserve encompasses portions of four Ozark stream watersheds, and is dominated by pine and oak forest, as well as significant areas of oak savanna and Tallgrass prairie.
The preserve is particularly unique for its extensive, high quality rocky glade communities and pristine water quality. Self-guided trail information is available at the preserve headquarters. Spring-fed creeks meander amid a rugged topography of steep slopes and narrow valleys harboring a mosaic of oak-hickory forest, lofty pine woodland, and a diverse mix of savanna, shrub land and prairie.
The preserve provides optimal habitat for a suite of uncommon breeding bird species, including some whose survival requires large blocks of intact habitat. The Nature Conservancy has introduced elk, which have been absent from the Ozarks for more than 150 years. White-tailed deer, coyotes, bobcats and many small mammals are also common on the preserve. Black bears also, after being absent from the Ozarks for over a century, now make their home on the preserve.
There are three self-guided nature trails that are open to the public during daylight hours every day. Access to other areas of the preserve may be arranged by appointment with the preserve manager. There are no facilities other than the headquarters building, which is open on weekdays.
Please observe the following guidelines when visiting:
- Stay on the trail. Don't collect plants, insects or other species or disturb soil, rocks, artifacts or scientific research markers.
- No dogs. Preserves harbor ground-nesting birds and other wildlife that are extremely sensitive to disturbance.
- No bicycles or motorized vehicles. Native plants and research sites are easily trampled.
- No hunting, camping or campfires.
- For groups of 10 or more, please contact the field office before visiting the preserve (a volunteer naturalist guide may be available).
- Please do not leave behind trash. Bring a bag and carry it out.