Every year in the spring and fall, LaRue Road in Wolf Lake, closes for the bi-annual snake migration.
The closing of the road was enacted by the Illinois Forest Service in 1972 to stop locals from purposely driving down LaRue during spring and fall to see how many snakes they could run over and kill.
Since then, March 15 through May 15, and Sept. 1 through Oct. 30 the road is completely closed. Throughout the past few years, the Friends of Shawnee National Forest has held a snake walk. The purpose of these walks is to show and educate the public about the diverse types of wildlife right in our backyard.
This fall’s walk generated the largest turn out yet, with an estimated count of more than 70 people participating, according to the group.
Scott Ballard, a herpetologist with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, led the group of down the 2.6-mile road. Along the way he would stop to identify varied species of snakes, tell a little about them, and most importantly, make sure the animals were safe.
“One thing I look for when I’m out here is illegal collecting, habitat destruction where people turn over rocks to look for stuff and don’t return them, that’s illegal down here,” Ballard said. “As long as they enjoy stuff, appreciate the animals, photograph them but don’t harass them or try to collect them, that’s what this whole thing is all about.”
While on the walk, Ballard did have to stop one member of the group from harassing a snake. Ballard used this opportunity to talk about proper snake interactions and how to be sure participants are not harassing the animals.
Throughout the course of the hike, many different species of snakes were seen which was not predicted by Ballard due to the warmer than usual weather.
“We’ll probably see some stuff on the way down, but we may see less and less on the way back,” Ballard said before the hike started.
Despite the warmer than normal weather, the group found success in finding many different species. Some of the species identified were copperheads, a Mississippi green water snake, a western ribbon, a yellow-bellied water snake, and a rough green snake.