Massive bugs are everywhere at Fullersburg Woods Nature Education Center (3609 Spring Road, Oak Brook, IL 60523, 630/850-8110, email), which is located in Fullersburg Woods Forest Preserve. A 5-foot-long praying mantis perches atop the entrance to the center, a large grasshopper peers down from the roof when you walk behind the center to view the calming currents of Salt Creek, and a massive ant greets kids and parents when they venture inside. But don’t worry, this is not some nuclear experiment gone amuck. You will not need a massive fly swatter or a towering can of bug spray to battle these gigantic beasts. These are just whimsical mega-reproductions of local insects that have been placed throughout the center and preserve.
The big bugs provide a nice introduction to Fullersburg Woods Nature Education Center and the surrounding Fullersburg Woods, but there are many other reasons to visit. Here are 5 reasons why you should visit this great destination just west of Chicago:
1. The nature education center is top notch. When you walk inside, you’ll be greeted by friendly staff, tons of exhibits (including one that shows birds that have been recently spotted in Fullersburg Woods), books, informational maps and flyers, and other resources. The kids can view live animals (snakes, toads, etc.), learn about the prints made by different types of animals in the woods via a hands-on exhibit (this was one of my eight-year-old son’s favorites), check out the skeleton of a 13,000-year-old woolly mammoth, and use microscopes and spotting scopes to study various animals and organisms. Kids can play with all types of hands-on exhibits in the kids’ area and climb into a “bird’s nest” (another favorite of my son). He tried to convince me to climb the narrow stairs up to the bird nest, but a quick look inside made me conjure images of myself as the lead story on the local news: “Breaking! Chicago man gets stuck in bird nest!”
2. Many places to relax and watch nature. There is a secluded and peaceful area with benches and chairs behind the center, where you can watch wildlife on Salt Creek, read a book, or just close your eyes and soak in the sounds of nature.
3. You can participate in a variety of scheduled programs for individuals, families, and groups that explore nature and outdoor activities. These include spring flower hikes, kayaking lessons, and fitness walks, as well as lessons on how to track resident and migrant wildlife, how to fish, and how to tap maple trees for syrup. There are also occasional seminars about the area’s natural and human history.
4. Great hiking. Novice and experienced hikers will enjoy several trails ranging in length from 0.2 miles (Monarch Trail and Oriole Trail) to 2.3 miles (Night Heron Trail) amidst the oak woodlands and marshes and wetlands bordering Salt Creek. Click here for a trail map.
5. Tons of nature-watching opportunities. You’ll see wildflowers, towering trees, and mini wetlands at the edge of Salt Creek, as well as herons, egrets, migratory birds, songbirds, beavers, and red foxes. My son and I spotted tiny black pollywogs wiggling in the shallows, as well as a couple of ducks fishing in the creek.
Keep the following in mind when you visit Fullersburg Woods Nature Education Center at Fullersburg Woods Forest Preserve:
- The center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, except on certain holidays, from April through October. The surrounding Fullersburg Woods Forest Preserve is open each day year-round from one hour after sunrise until one hour after sunset.
- Bring bug spray (for the little bugs), sunscreen, and water.
- Pack binoculars. There is good birdwatching.
- Early morning and late afternoon/early evening are the best times to take photographs.
When you’re done visiting the nature center and woods, hike southeast about half a mile on the Night Heron Trail (or jump in your car) to check out Graue Mill and Museum (3800 York Road, Oak Brook, IL 60523-2738, 630/655-2090 or 630/920-9720, firstname.lastname@example.org), which I wrote about in my last post, Graue Mill and Museum: Learn About Life in Illinois in the 1800s, the Underground Railroad, and Much More. You’ll step back in time during a visit to this underappreciated local gem, which was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, and is the only operating waterwheel gristmill in the Chicago area. The museum features rooms that depict life in the mid-to-late 1800s; an exhibit on the Underground Railroad (Frederick Graue sheltered African slaves who had escaped from southern plantations as they made their way north to freedom); milling, spinning, weaving, and living history presentations by docents; and special events such as the museum’s annual Fine Arts Festival, Craft Beer Tasting Event, Civil War Encampment, and Christmas at the Mill Holiday Boutique. The mill and museum are kid-friendly, and picnic tables are available with a nice view of the mill and Salt Creek. Graue Mill and Museum are open from mid-April through mid-November. Museum Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 10 A.M. to 4:30 P.M.; closed Monday, except for holidays. Contact the museum for the most current information on museum hours and events.
Copyright (text/photos) Andrew Morkes
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