CENTRAL — Walking though one of the trails in BREC’s Frenchtown Road Conservation Area is like walking into a story book forest.
The Amite River is muddy brown, long leaf yellow sunflowers are blooming and bright red cardinals swoop from bushes to trees in a flash.
Then there are the webs spun by gold and black banana spiders. Although its the season for the bigger spiders to die off, there are still a few stragglers around to aggravate a mid-morning hike.
The 496-acre site of bottomland hardwood forest habitat with three miles of trails at the confluence of the Amite and Comite rivers is the largest conservation area operated by BREC, which purchased the land in 2009 for $1.4 million.
The grand opening is 10 a.m. Tuesday.
“You can spend hours and hours just hiking the trails,” BREC Assistant Superintendent Ted Jack said Monday morning before a mid-morning guided hike.
After the trail opens, the public can hike, walk, fish, picnic and take in the scenery from sunrise to sunset.
The trail head, or starting area for the site, is at 17819 Frenchtown Road, Central.
BREC naturalist Amanda Nichols said the area should be popular with bird watchers. There are 120 bird species that either live in or migrate through the conservation area.
Some of those birds include the Kentucky and Swainson warblers.
Hikers might also spot deer, foxes, turkeys and bobcats out in the forest, and they should be on the lookout for a rare, four-toed salamander.
Although one of the last recorded sightings of the amphibian was in the 1920s, someone might make another one soon.
“It’s a possible breeding ground,” Nichols said.
What’s known as the Railroad Trail follows the Central Illinois Railroad track and forest edge to the Amite River Beach — a small, sandy beach area. The conservation area includes three miles of river edge.
Other parts of the trails include the Magnolia Beech Forest Loop, the Hardwood Forest Loop and the Amite River Overlook Loop.
The trails are marked by short yellow flags.
Parts of the area look like a traditional, Louisiana swamp area with cypress while other sections include a Magnolia Beech tree forest as well as a hardwood forest.
Jack said Tuesday is a “soft opening” so residents can start to use the area.
He also said there will be public meetings in the future to get input on creating a master plan for the conservation area.
Following the grand opening Tuesday, guests are welcome to join BREC staff on a short, guided hike.
On Sunday, BREC is holding the Frenchtown Woods Walk from 9 a.m. to noon.
A BREC naturalist will guide families around the trails with a picnic lunch to follow.
Guests must bring their own lunches.
Children must be able to complete a 1.5-mile wildness hike or be carried by an adult.