When I first began learning about the prairie,  I  wondered why we didn’t have prairie preserves in addition to the forest preserves since Illinois was once covered in mostly prairie. From my readings, forest preserves got their name because the initial focus was on protecting wooded areas since prairies were not considered valuable in the early 1900’s.  I am fortunate to live in Du Page County which has very well-managed forest preserves and other protected areas.  The areas protected by forest preserves today do include woodlands, savannas, wetlands and prairies.  Some Du Page County Forest Preserve favorites include McKee Marsh (in Blackwell), McDowell Grove, West Chicago Prairie, Springbrook Prairie, Green Valley, Maple Grove,  and Waterfall Glenn.  For a full listing and information go to the Du Page County Forest Preserve map or the Forest Preserve website in your county. I also learned forest preserves only exist in some parts of Illinois,and  parks, nature preserves, private and public, plus state natural areas are also used to protect our wilds throught out Illinois.

Some city park districts  also own natural areas. Some of my favorite park districts areas to visit in spring for woodland wildflowers include Knoch Knolls Park in Naperville and O’Hara Woods in Romeoville. Please check your city’s park district website for a list of natural areas.   State parks, state forests, wildlife refuge areas, and recreation areas fall under the Illinois Department of Natural Resource (IDNR).  Some of my favorite State Parks  in northeastern Illinois include Goose Lake Prairie, James Phillip State Park, Illinois Beach State Park, Volo Bog State Park and White Pines State Park. I also love the Cache River State Natural Area and Dixon Springs State Park in Southern Illinois. Click here for more information on Illinois State Parks. Some favorite federal lands to visit in Illinois include the Shawnee National Forest in southern IL and Midewin National Park in Joliet.

Bur Oak

Majestic Bur Oak in Summer at Herrick Lake Forest Preserve

Illinois Nature Preserves are private and public lands protected by state law and  must follow certain rules of management  because they have high quality habitats and support threatened species. For example, they cannot be used for camping, horseback riding, hunting, dog walking or anything else that might destroy any part of the Nature Preserve. Nondestructive hiking, wildlife or plant study are allowed in some public Illinois Nature Preserve.  Here is list of Illinois Nature Preserves. Some favorites Illinois Nature Preserves include: Heron Pond in Southern IL,  Dick Young Forest Preserve (in spring), Wolf Rd. Prairie,  parts of Springbrook Prairie, O’hara Woods (spring), Bluff Spring Fen, Trout Park, to name just a few.

There’s also natural areas protected by not-for-profit organizations like The Morton Arboretum’s Schulenburg Prairie and the Fermilab Natural Areas (both favorites). Conservation organizations such as Chicago Wilderness (a consortium of many organizations), The Nature Conservancy in Illinois, The Conservation Foundation, Openlands, plus others, all work together with local government and the private sector to purchase and protect even more natural areas.

Besides the websites listed above , Chicago Wilderness Magazine has archived online their wonderful articles and maps of places to visit, called Into the Wild.  The book Hiking and Biking in Du Page County is also a good resource. The Illinois Prairie Path and other biking trails are great ways to get to many forest preserves . Organizations like your local Sierra Club, Wild Ones Chapters, or Illinois Native Plant Society chapters visit many local natural areas and invite the public to join them. This is a great way to learn from some local experts.

Read more about other places to visit from the book listed in Good Winter Reads 2.

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