By Kim Mikus
Lake County Forest Preserves
Having a year under my belt at the Lake County Forest Preserves, I continue to learn something new every day about the 64 sites found in the county where I have lived most of my life.
I thought I knew about the forest preserves and what they have to offer. There is so much I didn't know about the 206 miles of trails and more than 30,800 acres of land protected and managed by the Lake County Forest Preserves for conservation, passive recreation, nature and history education.
Over the past year, I have explored the history of Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve in Lake Forest when the restored grass loop birding trail, opened on what had been the airstrip on the former base along Lake Michigan.
I found a hidden gem in Antioch when Ethel's Woods Forest Preserve opened last month after the completion of the biggest restoration project ever.
I experienced the opening of Waukegan Savanna Dog Park, one of five designated off-leash dog parks operated by the Lake County Forest Preserves. The 11-acre area features a separate, enclosed area for small dogs weighing less than 25 pounds. I was able to ride along in small utility vehicles and large trucks to gain a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how the maintenance and operations teams work to keep the preserves pristine and safe.
There are so many interesting facts and figures about the second-largest Forest Preserve District in Illinois. Here are a few:
1. Lake County is home to more endangered and threatened species than any other county in Illinois. Part of the organization's mission is to protect and restore the natural communities that support this native diversity. Acquiring land is just the first step.
2. There are 44 overlooks within the preserves, including the observation platform at Spring Bluff Forest Preserve in Winthrop Harbor. The overlooks are strategically placed along trailside locations that provide scenic viewscapes or bird-watching opportunities.
3. There are 21 miles of snowmobile trails within the preserves, many of which connect to other area snowmobile trails.
4. The Middle Fork of the North Branch of the Chicago River runs through Middlefork Savanna Forest Preserve in Lake Forest. Before it was channelized, the river was very wide and shallow, much like the Everglades. If you stand on the main trail at Middlefork and look east and west, you can see the rise in land where the true river banks are that held the water in check.
5. There are two sled hills. They are quite different from each other. The hill at Old School Forest Preserve in Mettawa has a run length of 209 feet, a vertical descent of 41 feet, an average slope of 11 degrees and a maximum slope of 28 degrees. The sled hill at Lakewood Forest Preserve in Wauconda features a run length of 425 feet, vertical descent of 64 feet, average slope of 8.5 degrees and maximum slope of 14 degrees. Both offer a great winter sports experience and hours of family fun.
6. As one of the nation's top conservation agencies, careful stewardship of every dollar is a key factor. The agency maintains a balanced budget, has sound reserves, long-term replacement funds, moderate debt, and a AAA bond rating, an achievement shared by very few forest preserves and park districts in the nation.
7. More than 350 different species of birds have been seen in Lake County.
8. Looking to get your walk or run in this winter? You will find 8 miles of paved trails that are plowed at Independence Grove in Libertyville, Old School Forest Preserve in Mettawa and Hastings Lake Forest Preserve in Lake Villa.
9. There are nearly 189 miles of challenging and scenic cross-country skiing trails for both beginners and skilled enthusiasts. One of the more challenging courses is along a hilly section of the Millennium Trail at Lakewood Forest Preserve. The planned 41-mile Millennium Trail is a vital corridor designed to connect central, western and northern Lake County. When tied with neighboring trails, it becomes part of a larger system linking residential areas to parks, forest preserves, schools and business districts.
10. In 2018, Forest Preserve staff recorded observations of more than 255 different animal species in preserves across the county.
11. The Lake County Forest Preserves operates the nationally accredited Dunn Museum in Libertyville, where temporary special exhibitions are featured. The bilingual exhibition, "A Celebration of Souls: Day of the Dead in Southern Mexico," will be on display through Jan. 5, 2020.
12. Horizons magazine has been published and sent to subscribers since the spring of 1992. The quarterly publication features articles on Lake County wildlife, nature and history, forest preserve news, and a calendar of programs and events. You can read it online (visit issuu.com/lcfpd/docs/horizonsmag-fall2019) or subscribe (visit lcfpd.wufoo.com/forms/horizons-quarterly) to receive the free magazine in print form.
13. The trumpeter swans that first nested at Rollins Savanna Forest Preserve in Grayslake four summers ago were the first trumpeters to nest in Illinois in more than 50 years. A pair has nested there every year since.
14. The Dunn Museum's collections, which comprise nearly 20,000 artifacts and 1,000 linear feet of archival materials, are securely housed in a modern, environmentally-controlled care and storage facility. Archival holdings within the museum's distinguished collections can be accessed by appointment by visitors, researchers and history enthusiasts.
15. Forest preserve educators present programs to more than 20,000 schoolchildren each year through field trips and in-school programs.
16. The Preservation Foundation is the charitable partner of the Lake County Forest Preserves. It helps support the growth, development and sustainability of our region's natural lands and cultural heritage. Donations to the foundation make possible the programs, places and priorities of the Forest Preserves -- from the Dunn Museum and summer concert series at Independence Grove, to the Green Youth Farm, Gateways Grants for schools, Adopt-a-Turtle program, and habitat restoration. Visit www.lcfpd.org/preservation-foundation.
17. The Des Plaines River Trail is a scenic, multiuse trail that spans nearly the entire length of Lake County for 31.4 miles as it winds through 12 preserves. Meandering along the Des Plaines River, the regional gravel trail is open for hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, horseback riding, and snowmobiling in winter along the northern section only, between Russell Road and Wadsworth Road. The trail follows the river's edge from Russell Road in Wadsworth south to Lake-Cook Road, where it continues as part of the Cook County Forest Preserve trail system.
18. Most forest preserves are open 6:30 a.m. to sunset daily. If a preserve gate is open before 6:30 a.m., the preserve is considered open for use. Two preserves feature solar-lit trails and remain open until 9 p.m. Nov. 3 through March 8. Hikers, skiers and snowshoers can get some evening exercise along a 1.3-mile fitness trail at Old School Forest Preserve in Libertyville, and a 1.65-mile section of the Millennium Trail adjacent to the Winter Sports Area at Lakewood Forest Preserve.
19. The Interactive Trail Map, utilizing GIS, is a cool feature to help people locate preserves, parking areas, trails, activities and forest preserve amenities. A video demonstrates the details at LCFPD.org/maps. Using GPS on your phone, you can use the map to pinpoint your location within the preserves.
20. In 2018, hundreds of people volunteered nearly 30,000 hours in forest preserves throughout Lake County. Volunteers play a key role in operations and public safety, habitat restoration, cultural preservation and education.
• Kim Mikus is a communications specialist for the Lake County Forest Preserves. She writes a bimonthly column about various aspects of the preserves. Contact her with ideas or questions at kmikuscroke@LCFPD.org. Connect with the Lake County Forest Preserves on social media @LCFPD.