Where: 501 East Romeo Road, Romeoville, IL 60446, 815/886-1467, Website, Facebook
Open: Visitor Center: Tuesday-Saturday: 10 a.m.–4 p.m.; Sunday: Noon–4 p.m.; Monday: Closed. The preserve is open 8 a.m. to sunset daily.
Quick Review: A well-organized and attractive museum on an island in the Des Plaines River. It provides information on the fur trade between the French voyageurs and Potawatomi. Things to do include visiting the museum and participating in its programs (bird hikes, craft club, etc.), taking a short hike and viewing and enjoying the forest, river, and wildlife; fishing; canoeing; kayaking; geocaching; cross-country skiing; and snowshoeing.
THERE’S A MUSEUM AND BEAUTIFUL NATURE AREA just waiting to be discovered amidst all these oil refineries and a hydrogen plant! That’s what I thought to myself as I headed southwest on New Avenue toward Isle a la Cache Museum in Romeoville, Illinois. The journey to the museum was not pretty (the sight of a Citgo refinery spewing pollutants is not what one wants to see if you’re a nature lover), but once you arrive at the museum and preserve you’ll forget that glimpse of post-fur-trade industrial Chicagoland.
The museum provides more information on the fur trade that occurred in the area between the French voyageurs (fur traders) and Potawatomi during the 1600s to the early 1800s. The Native Americans traded beaver and other animal pelts for European goods, including cloth, blankets, knives, brass kettles, silver ornaments, glass beads, liquor, guns, gunpowder, gun flints, and lead.
In French “Isle a la Cache” means “Island of the Hiding Place.” Some people believe that the French voyageurs and Potawatomi (or other Native American tribes) may have cached, or stored, goods on the island. Others opine that these groups may have met to trade there. The island’s actual use during the fur trade era remains a mystery, but that matters little because the Forest Preserve District of Will County has created an informative museum and protected a beautiful natural area that adjoins the Des Plaines River. It is well worth a visit. Here are 9 reasons why you should check out the museum and preserve:
1. There are plenty of activities for kids. They can feel an actual beaver pelt, experiment with making animal tracks, play in a wigwam, and check out a Potawatomi longhouse and traders’ cabin.
2. You can attend the museum’s annual “Island Rendezvous” celebration (which is scheduled for Saturday, June 8, 2019, 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.). According to the museum, “rendezvous was a time when fur traders met to celebrate a successful season.”…[Visitors will] “experience the connection between the past and present with activities, games, and crafts. Feel what it’s like to pull back a bow and shoot an arrow. Try to start a fire with nothing but wood. See live birds of prey and celebrate historic farms with a petting zoo.”
3. You can follow the journey of a beaver pelt from a beaver lodge in what is now Illinois to a Paris hat shop (via a museum exhibit).
4. You can participate in educational programs in the museum’s longhouse, traders’ cabin, or outdoor amphitheater.
5. You can view Blanding’s turtles at the museum. The Blanding’s turtle has been on the state’s endangered list since 2009 due to habit loss and other causes. They can live up to 80 years in the wild.
6. You can take a hike on a short trail that runs along the Des Plaines River. When I visited, the area had just experienced heavy rains, so the river was running fast and some of the island was flooded. Muddy fun!
7. You can see tons of wildlife: bald eagles, osprey, and migratory birds; turtles; frogs; deer; and mink.
8. You can fish for northern pike, rock bass, carp, largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill, and sunfish in the Des Plaines River.
9. There are opportunities to canoe and kayak. The preserve has a canoe/kayak launch site.
I’m amazed at how many great, local nature and historical museums we have in Chicagoland, and you can add Isle a la Cache Museum to this list. If you’re looking for an alternative to video-gaming, social media liking and posting, mall-visiting, or just hanging-out-at-home days, you should check out this museum and its natural areas, as well as these nearby nature spots that I’ve covered in past articles:
- Cap Sauers Holding Nature Preserve: The Wildest Place in Cook County
Located about 10 miles northeast of the museum
- Red Gate Woods: Hawks and Hills, Sloughs and Snakes, and Ghosts and Buried Nuclear Waste, Oh My!
Located about 11 miles northeast of the museum
- Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center: Not Your Parents’ Little Red Schoolhouse
Located about 13 miles northeast of the museum
- Orland Grassland: A Respite From Malls, Motorways, and Modernity
Located about 18 miles southeast of the museum
- Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie and 7 Other Places to See Bison in the Midwest
Located about 20 miles due south of the museum
Additionally, consider taking a hike on the Centennial Trail or the Illinois & Michigan Canal Trail (both just east down Romeo Road from the museum), or visiting O’Hara Woods Preserve (about 2.5 miles west), Prairie Bluff Preserve (about 5 miles south), Lockport Prairie Nature Preserve (about 5 miles south), and Pilcher Park Nature Center (about 11 miles southeast).
Copyright (text/photos) Andrew Morkes
Interested in a career that protects the environment? I frequently write about job opportunities in environmental science, environmental activism, and clean energy in my career newsletter, the CAM Report. Of course, it also offers information on hot careers, the latest on internships and salaries, and interviews with workers–from our nation’s planetary protection officer, to entertainment engineers, to crossword puzzle creators. Click here to read a sample issue and learn more about subscribing.
My College Spotlightnewsletter often covers interesting environmental majors. It also provides information on admissions trends, scholarships, and much more. Click here to read a sample issue and learn more about subscribing.
Finally, my book, They Teach That in College!?: A Resource Guide to More Than 100 Interesting College Majors, 3rd Edition, provides more information on environmental- and sustainability-related majors such as Ecotourism, Range Management, Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Built Environment, Sustainability Studies, and Sustainable Agriculture/Organic Farming. Click on the title to read the table of contents, the introduction, and a sample chapter.
If you like Nature in Chicagoland, please share my blog with your friends and family.