Rutherford Refuge at Twin Bridges Becomes JDCF’s First Nature Preserve

After reading this headline, you may be asking yourself, “What do you mean ‘first’ Nature Preserve?” What about Schurmeier Teaching Forest? What about Wapello? What about Casper Bluff, Horseshoe Mound, Valley of Eden, and all the other natural areas that JDCF has protected over the last 29 years? Yes, JDCF has preserved these natural areas in perpetuity for future generations to enjoy. But the title of “Nature Preserve” carries a very special meaning within the State of Illinois, and it’s not a title that is easily attained.

“Nature Preserve” is an official legal status bestowed on certain special natural areas by a little-known state government agency called the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission (INPC). While INPC does not own any land itself, INPC uses Nature Preserve dedications in order to permanently protect land that is owned by nonprofit organizations like JDCF, governmental entities, and private landowners. A Nature Preserve dedication is the highest form of legal protection that a natural area can achieve in the State of Illinois without an act of Congress.
“Nature Preserve” is also an official status that is reserved for only the rarest and highest-quality natural areas in Illinois. The Rutherford Refuge at Twin Bridges is one such natural area. It contains the “best of kind” wet-mesic prairie and sedge meadow habitats located within Illinois’s portion of Driftless Area. The refuge also contains dry-mesic prairie, oak barrens, oak savanna, upland forest, and coolwater stream habitats that paint a unique mosaic of habitat types on the landscape, which are home to several rare plant and insect species.

Acquired by JDCF in December 2020, the Rutherford Refuge at Twin Bridges was founded with generous financial support from the Rutherford Family and the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation. It’s named in memory of John and Barbara Rutherford who owned and stewarded the property from 1988 to 2018.

“Our mom had a vision,” said Bryn Davis, one of John and Barbara Rutherford’s four children that helped create the refuge. “I know she and dad would be thrilled beyond words at the fact that Twin Bridges has been dedicated as a Nature Preserve! They knew that it was a special place and they wanted it to be protected and available for others to enjoy. This dedication just reinforces what our parents and JDCF saw in this little gem of a place.”

The Rutherford Refuge at Twin Bridges Nature Preserve joins the ranks of more than 400 dedicated Nature Preserves across Illinois totaling more than 60,000 acres. It is only the fourth Nature Preserve to be dedicated in Jo Daviess County and the only Nature Preserve in the county that is not owned by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

In addition to over 400 Nature Preserves, INPC has registered 196 “Land and Water Reserves” totaling more than 54,000 acres across Illinois. Similar to Nature Preserve dedications, INPC uses Land and Water Reserve registrations to permanently protect Illinois’s most important natural and archaeological areas. However, unlike Nature Preserves, Land and Water Reserves allow for a wider variety of recreational uses to occur onsite and are used to protect sites that may be of slightly lower quality and may not qualify for Nature Preserve status. JDCF’s Land and Water Reserves include Wapello, Casper Bluff, and Keough Effigy Mounds.

The Rutherford Refuge at Twin Bridges Nature Preserve is located at 9532 East Twin Bridges Road, Warren, Illinois. It’s open to the public for passive outdoor recreation daily from dawn to dusk.