About 12,000 years ago, the last of the towering glaciers that covered parts of what is now Chicagoland began melting. As one of the massive glaciers melted, a water-filled depression was left in its wake. The depression eventually developed into a deep 50-acre lake that had steep banks and poor drainage.
About 6,000 years ago, the lake began filling with dense vegetation. According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, “a floating mat, consisting primarily of sphagnum moss formed around the outside edges among the cattails and sedges. As these plants died and decomposed, the peat mat thickened, forming a support material for rooted plants.”
The plant-filled lake eventually became part of what we now know as Volo Bog State Natural Area (28478 W. Brandenburg Road, Ingleside, IL 60041, 815/344-1294), which is located about 40 miles northwest of Chicago. The site includes Volo Bog, the only quaking bog in Illinois. A quaking bog consists of layers and layers of plant matter that have collected atop of the remnants of a former lake. As a boy, I once walked on a quaking bog at the Owasippe Scout Reservation in Michigan. It was amazing. I bounced up and down on the ground (of course, it was not real ground, just thick layers of plant life floating atop water), and it felt like I was hopping on a mini-trampoline. We also drank water from a nearby spring that I still remember as the best water I’ve ever tasted.
You can’t jump on the bog at Volo Bog, but it’s still worth a visit. Volo Bog is so unique that it was designated as an Illinois Nature Preserve in 1970. These preserves protect the highest quality natural lands in the state.
Volo Bog State Natural Area is a special place for nature viewing, hiking, and contemplation. Here are 10 things you can do at this unique site, which has a landscape that is much closer to what you see in Wisconsin or Minnesota than what is typical of Illinois:
1. You can walk the Volo Bog Interpretive Trail, a half-mile trail that takes you across deck sections (which float atop the water), boardwalks, and a woodchip path. As you walk, you’ll get a chance to observe each stage of bog succession until you get to the “eye of the bog” (photos 1 and 2 above).” This was my favorite walk. Within minutes of leaving the visitor center, you’ll be surrounded by tall cattails, hear the sounds of crickets and frogs, and feel like you’re far from civilization. Note: this is a loop trail, but damage to one section requires hikers to split their hike into two segments to view the bog (on-site signage provides more information). Click here for a trail map.
2. In the bog and surrounding areas, look for wildlife: beavers, great blue and green-backed herons, whitetail deer, mink, muskrat, raccoon, dragonflies, sandhill cranes, little brown bats, muskrats, turtles, northern owls, and finches.
3. You can view plant species such as marsh shieldfern, bottlebrush sedge fern, sensitive fern. starflower, water arum, highbush blueberry, winterberry holly, red-osier dogwood, and marsh cinquefoil.
4. Check out the tamarack trees that are in or near the bog. These beautiful pine trees are one of the few types of trees that flourish in bogs. The tamaracks are only present in the northeast corner of Illinois and are considered a threatened species in our state.
5. Hike all or a portion of the 2.75-mile Tamarack View Trail through woods, wetlands, and prairie. The trail begins just south of the visitor center.
6. Hike the Deerpath Trail and Prairie View Trails, which consist of 2 miles of paths through woods, old farm fields, and areas where prairie is being restored.
7. Check out the nature center, which is housed in a dairy barn built in the early 1900s. The center features nature exhibits, a hands-on discovery area, and library.
8. Enjoy lunch in the picnic grove near the visitor center.
9. Visit the Pistakee Bog Nature Preserve just across the road from Volo Bog.
10. Snowshoe and ski at the preserve in the winter.
Visiting beautiful places like Volo Bog and other Illinois Nature Preserves makes me ponder all the beautiful, pristine natural areas in Illinois that were not protected and that have given way to “progress.” It pains me to think that places just like Volo Bog are now covered by strip malls, housing developments, and factories. We can certainly use another Volo Bog or two, but we don’t need any more suburban sprawl. But what’s done is done, unfortunately, and this passing thought just makes me appreciate the beautiful natural areas that remain in our state. It also makes me more motivated to protect our special places. I hope that you feel the same way, too, especially as many of our important environmental laws are under attack by short-sighted politicians.
After checking out the bog, take a break from nature by visiting the Volo Auto Museum (27582 Volo Village Road, Volo, IL 60073, 815/385-3644), which is just about 10 minutes away. It’s a family-owned and -run museum and collectibles auto market that features 33 distinct exhibits in 12 buildings on 35 acres, plus many outdoor exhibits. It also features a restaurant and a large antique mall. It’s a warm blast of kitschy Americana. There are hundreds of vintage and famous cars, but the museum also features everything under the sun—from 1950s jukeboxes and arcade games, to military aircraft and 100-year-old trains, to antique bikes, scooters, tractors, and snowmobiles. There’s literally something for everybody at the museum. Unless you’re a chronic grump, you’ll find something at the museum that will make you smile, laugh, or simply say wow (like I did when I saw the 28-foot-long guitar car and the 14-foot-tall roller skate car). Click here to read my article about the Volo Auto Museum.
Copyright Andrew Morkes (photos and text, except quoted text)
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