Points of Interest:
• See a western extension of the eastern Appalachian forest.
• Learn how to identify the more than 25 species of trees found here.
• Enjoy a variety of wooded habitats that support many forest birds.
Natural History: Vancill Hollow Natural Area faces eastward and contains steep rugged slopes and bluffs that rise over 300 feet above the valley floor that drains to the Mississippi River. In the deep coves mesic forest on deep loamy soils support trees of greater size and species diversity than are typically found farther west in the Ozarks. This mesic forest community is the westernmost site of a community more typical in the southern Appalachian mountains, with American beech, tulip poplar, and cucumber magnolia trees. These mesic forests support abundant stands of broad beech, Christmas, maidenhair and silvery spleenwort ferns and characteristic spring wildflowers such as white baneberry, jack-in-the pulpit, bellwort, Dutchman’s breeches, and trout lily. Pennywort is a spring ephemeral wildflower found here at the western edge of its range. On the dry-mesic slopes and narrow ridges more typical Ozark forest and woodland tree species as white oak, black oak, post oak, and shagbark hickory thrive.
Vancil Hollow is a good place to see and hear a variety of forest birds, including the pileated woodpecker, barred owl, northern parula, ovenbird, worm-eating warbler, Kentucky warbler, red-eyed vireo, Acadian flycatcher, and wood thrush. Audubon considers these forested hills north of Cape Girardeau as an Important Bird Area (see: http://mo.audubon.org/) as they provide important stopover habitat for migrant birds along the Mississippi flyway, a major mid-continent migration corridor. These forests with abundant snags and down dead wood provide good habitat for salamanders, including the western slimy salamander, long-tailed salamander, and southern red-backed salamander.
Trail of Tears, the namesake of the state park this natural area is located in, is in reference to one of the more sad episodes of American history. At Moccasin Springs just a half mile south of Vancill Hollow the Cherokee tribe of Native Americans ferried across the Mississippi River during the winter of 1838-39 on their route from the southern Appalachian mountains to a new home in the Oklahoma territory. During that winter many Cherokee died and some are thought to be buried in and around the state park. This park and natural area owes its thanks to the people of Cape Girardeau County who authorized a bond issue in 1956 to purchase the land that became today’s state park.
From Exit 105 (Fruitland/Jackson) on Interstate 55 take Highway 61 north for about a mile. Turn right (east) onto Highway 177 and continue for nearly 10 miles. The entrance to the state park will be on the left (east) just before the Highway 177 and Highway V intersection. Follow the park road to the visitor center. No designated hiking trails enter Vancill Hollow itself. State park roads follow the ridges on the south and north boundaries of the natural area. The scenic overlook on a 600 foot tall bluff above the Mississippi River provides fantastic views of the river, its floodplain in neighboring Illinois, and views down into Vancill Hollow. To access the natural area on foot requires a map and compass for off-trail exploration for experienced and fit naturalists. Check with park staff at the visitor center for details. Alternatively, the 3 mile Sheppard Point Trail, while not in the natural area itself, provides an opportunity to see many of the same plant species as found in Vancill Hollow for less adventuresome naturalists. Hunting is not permitted. Fishing is allowed.