Thousands and thousands of years ago, a spring-fed stream began to carve a ravine into a bluff that overlooked a river. As time passed, the ravine grew deeper. Native Americans (including the Potawatomi chief Black Partridge) lived in and/or travelled through the forests, ravines, towering bluffs, and flood plains of the area. Life was good—especially during the warm months. Eventually, white men came and forcibly removed the Indians from their ancestral lands, building beautiful little towns such as Lemont and not-so beautiful heavy industry along the river.
Today, the Indians are long gone, Lemont remains a charming town full of history, some of the heavy industry remains along the river, but, most importantly for nature lovers, the spring-fed ravine and bluff community—which was established and protected as Black Partridge Woods—survives amidst civilization. In fact, wise people made it one of the first Illinois Nature Preserves in 1965. These preserves protect the highest quality natural lands in the state.
As a lifelong Chicagoan and frequent hiker, I’m amazed at all the natural spots that I have not visited. Work and life often get in the way of exploration and fun. I’d never visited Black Partridge Woods, but that changed last week.
Black Partridge Woods is located on sleepy Bluff Road, which runs along the Des Plaines River. At 80 acres, it’s a tiny preserve, but well worth a visit. Here are 8 reasons why:
1. Great hiking on the bluffs that tower 50 feet or so above the meandering gravel- and stone-filled creek, as well as along the creek bed and in the surrounding forests, which are dominated by red and white oak, sugar maple, and basswood.
2. The chance to roam the woods, forget that you’re in the modern world, and make your own discoveries on unmarked trails.
3. Stunning spring wildflowers, vivid fall colors, and snow-covered hills and creeks in winter.
4. The opportunity to see some of the earliest late-winter/early-spring plants and flowers such as skunk cabbage (which can grow two feet high and one foot wide…pictured below) and bright yellow marsh marigold, which lines the edges of the water.
5. Good animal watching. Black Partridge boasts a wide range of animals, including northern water snakes, deer, red-headed woodpeckers, woodcocks, gray squirrels, wood peewees, and American toads. An especially fascinating “critter” is the mottled sculpin, a prehistoric-looking, bottom-dwelling fish that flourishes in the woods’ cold and highly-oxygenated streams. Additionally, spring and fall are great times to view migratory birds who’ve stopped for a rest in the preserve.
6. Stunning views of the Des Plaines River from certain bluff areas of Black Partridge Woods, from Lemont Woods County Forest Preserve, and from other nearby preserves.
7. Picnicking: Bring a picnic lunch, sit in the shade of the picnic shelter, and watch the creek make its way through the woods. (Note: the shelter can be reserved for large groups.)
8. Views of a charming stone bridge; makes for nice photos in the fall and winter.
Keep the following in mind when you visit Black Partridge Woods (BPW):
- Preserve hours: 8:00 a.m. to sunset
- Parking is located just off Bluff Road right after you turn into the preserve.
- Be careful when hiking; the terrain can be challenging—especially after it rains. Watch out for exposed tree roots, as well as big rocks on the trails.
- Bring bug spray, sunscreen, and water.
- Pack binoculars. There is excellent birdwatching.
- Early morning and late afternoon/early evening are the best times to take photographs.
- Leave your dog, horse, and bicycle at home; they’re banned to protect the environmentally sensitive and protected natural areas.
Another potential destination just north of BPW on Bluff Road: the Keepataw Preserve, a historic limestone quarry with great views of the Des Plaines River. It’s now part of the Des Plaines River preservation system, which conserves more than 2,400 acres. Notable wildlife at the preserve include the federally endangered Hine’s emerald dragonfly. Today, it is only found in Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Missouri.
After visiting Black Partridge Woods and the Keepataw Preserve, be sure to visit the historic town of Lemont just across the river. The town, which was first settled in 1833, offers historic churches and other buildings made from dolomite limestone (which is known locally as Athens Marble, and was used to build the Chicago Water Tower, Holy Name Cathedral, and other Chicago landmarks). Lemont also offers a walkable historic downtown, antique shops, boutiques, and tons of history. It’s one of my favorite towns in the southwest suburbs.
Visit if you like history:
Visit if you’re hungry or thirsty:
Still want to do some more hiking and nature-watching? If so, check out some of my past blog posts to learn more about other interesting destinations near Black Partridge Woods:
- Red Gate Woods: Hawks and Hills, Sloughs and Snakes, and Ghosts and Buried Nuclear Waste, Oh My!
Located about 10 miles due east of Black Partridge Woods
- Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center: Not Your Parents’ Little Red Schoolhouse
Located about 12 miles due east of Black Partridge Woods
- Orland Grassland: A Respite From Malls, Motorways, and Modernity
Located about 20 miles due southeast of Black Partridge Woods
- Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie and 6 Other Places to See Bison in the Midwest
Located about 31 miles southwest of Black Partridge Woods
Copyright [text/photos (unless otherwise credited)] Andrew Morkes
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FYI: The descendants of the Potawatomi who lived in Illinois now live in Iowa, northern Wisconsin, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.