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updated: 3/20/2020 6:34 AM

Lake County offers a variety of woodland, wetland and prairie habitats to explore

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  • The Lake County Forest Preserves manages about 206 miles of trails and more than 30,800 acres of land.

    The Lake County Forest Preserves manages about 206 miles of trails and more than 30,800 acres of land.
    Courtesy of Lake County Forest Preserves

 
 

With spring right around the corner, it's the perfect time to head outside to explore a new forest preserve.

There is so much to see and enjoy, as Lake County is blessed with a rich and unusual mix of woodland, wetland and prairie habitats that offer a refuge to a host of rare plants and animals.

Forest preserve trails offer places to relax and explore.
Forest preserve trails offer places to relax and explore. - Courtesy of Alden Snyder

Lake County is home to more endangered and threatened species than any other county in Illinois.

With all the stress in the world right now, being outside in nature is a great place to unwind. We advise everyone who visits forest preserves to follow Centers for Disease Control Prevention recommended COVID-19 prevention strategies.

It's also a good idea to check our website, LCFPD.org, to find out if preserves, trails or facilities have closed.

Many of us may be familiar with a forest preserve that's near our home. Why not explore a preserve that you haven't been to before?

There are 64 sites, about 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.

Not sure which forest preserve to explore? I asked some of our staff for advice. I asked them to tell me about their favorite preserve. Here is what they had to say.

Randy Seebach, director of planning and land preservation

Favorite forest preserve: McDonald Woods in Lindenhurst

Why? Because of the diversity of habitat and scenery. It has it all: oak woods, prairies, wetlands, streams, open water and patches of evergreen trees that make you feel like you're in the North Woods.

What draws you here? I am a runner. The change in landscape types provides shade when it's hot and sunny, open areas when it's cold and you want the sun, and wooded areas for protection when it's windy.

The rolling topography offers a constant interest and a challenge when running. There are very few forest preserves that have a multidimensional running environment, no matter what the weather throws at you. The trails are beautifully laid out to take full advantage of the remarkable views within the preserve.

An interesting fact: It was a hunting reserve before the Forest Preserve acquired it in 1974. The previous owner, A.B. McDonald, changed the landscape in the 1940s to a nature preserve by planting pine trees and creating open water areas for waterfowl habitat.

Much of the appeal for visitors to McDonald Woods can be, in part, attributed to the efforts of Mr. McDonald.

Alyssa Firkus, education manager

Favorite forest preserve: Cuba Marsh in Deer Park

Cuba Marsh in Deer Park features diversity and awesome trails for jogging, according to an education manager at the Lake County Forest Preserves.
Cuba Marsh in Deer Park features diversity and awesome trails for jogging, according to an education manager at the Lake County Forest Preserves. - Courtesy of John D. Kavc

Why? You get a little of everything at this preserve, from prairie to wetland to savanna. You are able to glimpse into multiple ecosystems.

What draws you here? Its diversity and awesome trails. It's a great place to jog.

An interesting fact: It's a great spot to see American coots.

Nan Buckardt, education director

Favorite forest preserve: Asking me to pick a favorite preserve is really like asking me to pick a favorite child -- and my children will tell you that I verbally announce it and my favorite can be fleeting. That said, Ryerson Woods in Riverwoods is very special to me.

Why? The health of the woodland is exceptional. The trails are rustic, which helps me to easily feel as if I'm part of the woodland itself, not just a viewer of it.

What draws you here? The ever-changing aspect of the preserve. I visit it regularly and often notice small changes, but also notice things that I've never noticed before -- a woodpecker home in a tree, an animal trail through the fallen leaves, an area with a concentration of hackberry trees that I've walked by hundreds of times but never took the time to really look.

An interesting fact: Most of the trails at Ryerson were either old roads or horse trails.

Millie Olavere, accounts receivable specialist

Favorite forest preserve: Independence Grove in Libertyville

Why? I enjoy taking my grandchildren to the playground, beach and marina.

What draws you here? I love making the whole day a special outing for my grandkids. It's nice because it is so close to home and affordable.

An interesting fact: A day spent here can fit into any budget. You can take advantage of the free amenities and pack a lunch, or treat yourself to beach and marina activities and visit the concessionaire.

Diana Dretske, curator

Favorite forest preserve: Van Patten Woods in Wadsworth

Why? It's close to home and has a lot of different natural features, including an oak forest, rolling topography and the Des Plaines River.

What draws you here? The natural landscape, but also a connection to the past with its history of Native peoples and nonnative settlers living here.

An interesting fact: In 1961, this became the first preserve purchased by the Lake County Forest Preserves.

Gary Glowacki, wildlife ecologist

Favorite forest preserve: Spring Bluff in Winthrop Harbor

Why? Spring Bluff is my favorite forest preserve due to its vast diversity of plants and animals. At Spring Bluff, you can find more than 900 native plants and 300 animal species.

What draws you here? In addition to the incredible diversity, the site offers so many scenic views and lessons in ecology. While walking, you can't help but be reminded of the theory of ecological succession and how the landscape formed and continues to be shaped by Lake Michigan.

An interesting fact: Spring Bluff is a key part of the Lake Plain, providing a critical link from Illinois Beach State Park to Chiwaukee Prairie in Wisconsin. This 4,500-acre landscape represents the highest quality remaining coastal area in southeast Wisconsin and in all of Illinois. It was designated a Ramsar Wetland of International Significance in 2015.

Robin Hill, exhibit designer for the Dunn Museum

Favorite forest preserve: Rollins Savanna in Grayslake

Why? The bike path is well maintained and the scenery during the summer is beautiful.

What draws you here? The biking trails. I love how I can use the Millennium Trail to bike from Rollins through Bonner Farm and up to McDonald Woods, all while remaining in nature and temporarily escaping the busy suburban feel.

Kim Mikus, communications specialist

Favorite forest preserve: Fort Sheridan in Lake Forest

Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve is one of only a few places in Lake County that offers free public access to Lake Michigan.
Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve is one of only a few places in Lake County that offers free public access to Lake Michigan. - Courtesy of DroNation

Why? Fort Sheridan is a preserve with tremendous history and breathtaking views.

What draws you here? Because of the shoreline that hugs Lake Michigan, it is home to many beautiful and rare plant species not found elsewhere in the region.

An interesting fact: When renowned landscape designer O.C. Simonds conceived plans for the Fort Sheridan army base in 1889, he merged military needs with the land's rolling terrain and ecologically sensitive bluffs and ravines while making views of Lake Michigan a priority.

Our own Forest Preserve landscape architects considered many of the same philosophies during a recent update of the preserve's amenities.

• 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.