Join with the Shawnee National Forest (NF) in celebrating the arrival of spring as Secretary Thomas J. Vilsack has proclaimed May 18th – 24th, 2014 as “National Wildflowers Week.” Warmer weather has officially arrived to the region, and with it comes a multitude of native wildflowers around the Shawnee. For outdoor enthusiasts looking to connect with nature, the springtime setting provides not only a wonderful backdrop for doing so but also offers some exciting places to visit that are complimented by the beautiful colors that only spring can provide. Needing help deciding which locales to visit to see the beauty that springtime provides? If so, the U.S. Forest Service offers an online wildflower map with hundreds of locations on national forests for prime wildflower viewing, making it easier than ever to enjoy America’s great outdoors. The wildflower map includes wildflower viewing areas on National Forest System lands and can be referenced by specific states, individual national forests and geographic regions. Four of these areas are highlighted on the Shawnee NF. For many rural communities, the tourist revenue generated by thousands of wildflower festivals and events held each year helps support local economies. According to recent research, viewing and photographing wildflowers and trees is the fastest growing nature-based outdoor activity. If you are seeking advice on where to view wildflowers locally on the Shawnee, front desk personnel at one of our three offices, located in Harrisburg, Vienna and Jonesboro, can provide excellent hiking recommendations along with other helpful tips to aid you on your outing. A wildflower themed Connecting Families with the Forest display is also available at the Harrisburg office. All offices are open Monday through Friday; 8:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. CST. The map is part of the agency’s Celebrating Wildflowerswebsite which includes more than 10,000 plant images and information about the aesthetic, recreational, biological, medicinal, and economic values of native plants. Feature sections focus on the role of pollinators, overviews of flower types, and spotlights rare and interesting plant communities. An ethnobotany page also highlights how people of particular cultures and regions make use of indigenous plants. Educational activities for kids and resources for teachers are available too. Below are the wildflower areas located on the Shawnee National Forest that are identified on the newly released map: Bell Smith Springs Recreation Area Bell Smith Springs Recreation Area is a popular destination for wildflower enthusiasts, hikers and picnickers. There are a couple of interesting trails that traverse the area, allowing visitors to experience a wide variety of natural communities and marvelous geological settings, such as sandstone cliffs, a sandstone canyon, a natural bridge and a gentle stream flowing across a sandstone escarpment. Natural communities include sandstone glades, sandstone cliffs, sandstone boulders, xeric, dry, dry-mesic and mesic upland forests. LaRue-Pine Hills LaRue Pine Hills’ unique characteristics dictate and support a rich biodiversity. It covers about 4.5 square miles (3,547 acres) and contains 14 natural communities including forests, swamps, ponds, wetlands, hill prairie, limestone barrens and striking geologic features. LaRue Pine Hills supports nearly 1,200 species of vascular plants and as such is one of the country’s most diverse areas. Pounds Hollow Ecological Area Pounds Hollow is a popular destination for wildflower enthusiasts, hikers, picnickers and folks who enjoy swimming and relaxing on a beach. There are two interesting trails that traverse the area, allowing visitors to experience a wide variety of natural communities and marvelous geological settings, such as sandstone glades and cliffs and a sandstone canyon with a gentle stream flowing through the canyon and into Pounds Hollow Lake. Simpson Township Barrens Simpson Township Barrens is a unique ecological area containing several native plant communities such as limestone barrens, seeps, dry and dry-mesic upland forest and an intermittent creek drainage. The topography of the area supports a rich diversity of plant life as well. The limestone barrens communities are characterized by very dry, calcium rich soils that support a flora more commonly encountered on the tall grass prairies found north of the Shawnee National Forest. Administered by the USDA Forest Service, the Shawnee National Forest is one of 155 national forests nationwide. As the only national forest in Illinois, the Shawnee offers numerous avenues for connecting with the natural world through its 280,000 acres of varied landscape. Whether your interests lie more in outdoor recreational activities, such as hiking or camping, or include learning about the unique natural and cultural heritage of southern Illinois, the fields, forests and streams of the Shawnee welcome you. To discover more about the Shawnee National Forest, visit http://www.fs.usda.gov/shawnee and follow us on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/shawneenf. The U.S. Forest Service is an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a mission of sustaining the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The Forest Service’s Eastern Region includes twenty states in the Midwest and East, stretching from Maine, to Maryland, to Missouri, to Minnesota. There are 17 national forests and one national tallgrass prairie in the Eastern Region. For more information, visit www.fs.usda.gov/R9. The U.S. Forest Service manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands the Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation’s clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year. The agency has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live. For more information, visit www.fs.usda.gov/.