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By Gus Bode

Eds. Note: This is the third in a four-part series exploring recreational parks and preserves in the southern Illinois region.

As you progress down the trail, what began as a barely audible burble has increased in volume to a constant crashing as the water falls upon the rock.

A few more minutes and the source of the sound – a 100-foot-tall intermittent waterfall – comes into view. You stand mesmerized, watching as the water flows from the top of the cliff and drops from ledge to ledge before becoming a part of the stream below.

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This waterfall is a feature on the Rocky Hollow Trail, a popular hiking trail in Ferne Clyffe State Park.

Both Ferne Clyffe State Park and Cave-in-Rock State Park boast unique geological features that draw several thousand visitors annually.

Ferne Clyffe is a scenic park that is easily accessible, said Bill Reynolds, site superintendent at the park.

The park is situated near Goreville, 12 miles south of Marion, five miles off of Interstate-57 and 2 miles off of Interstate-24.

Reynolds said his favorite areas of the park are the Rocky Hollow Trail, which leads to the waterfall and the Hawks’ Cave Trail, which leads to Hawks’ Cave, a 150-foot-long shelter bluff.

“A lot of young families or elderly folks still want to be able to see something really unique and a lot of these really unique geological features, like waterfalls and shelter bluffs, are along these trails,” Reynolds said.

The park has approximately 22 miles of equestrian and hiking trails, five campgrounds and a 16-acre lake. In addition to camping and hiking, other recreational activities include hunting, fishing, picnicking and rappelling.

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“I like to sit on the cliffs; it’s relaxing to sit and chill up there and it’s really pretty,” said Leah Otten, a junior from Frankfort studying dental hygiene.

Reynolds said one or two of the trails are still closed from damages caused by the ice storm earlier this year, though most trails as well as the roads and campgrounds are open. For updates on trail cleanup, call the park office at 618-995-2411.

Cave-in-Rock State Park, near Golconda, is named for a large cave that has been carved into the sandstone bluff along the Ohio River.

The cave is 55 feet wide, 40 feet tall at the entrance and 350 feet deep. It was discovered in 1729 by a French explorer and was a hideout for outlaws, bandits and river pirates until the mid-1830s, according to the park Web site.

“I enjoyed the pirate cave and the sheer cliffs that overlook the majestic Ohio River,” said Garrick Haywood, a senior from Washington, Ill., studying special education.

Two trails lead hikers to the cave, though other unmarked trails are open to hikers as well. There are also opportunities for picnicking, boating, fishing and camping in the park.

The trails to the cave are currently closed because of the high water level of the river, but the park is still open to visitors, said Mike Gullett, the site superintendent.

Gullett said the river will most likely return to its normal level in two weeks.

Until the cave trails are open, visitors can stop by the park lodge and restaurant to try the “greatest blackberry cobbler you’ve ever had in your life,” said Gullett.

For restaurant reservations or to reserve one of the eight rental cottages, call the park office at 618-289-4545.

With the weather warming, now is a great time to visit either Ferne Clyffe State Park or Cave-in-Rock State Park.

“There is so much more to southern Illinois than Carbondale,” Otten said. “It’s a real shame for people to come here to school and never experience anything outside The Strip and Carbondale. There is so much beauty out there.”

Audra Ord can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 275 or at [email protected]

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