BY ANDREW MORKES, FOUNDER OF NATURE IN CHICAGOLAND
I didn’t see any raccoons, but I did savor acres and acres of stunning wild geraniums and mayapples during my hike last week at Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve (5851 W. Pauling Road, Monee, IL 60449). This 213-acre Illinois Nature Preserve is a great destination for a short hike and wildflower viewing (wild geraniums, mayapples, blue-eyed Marys, and Virginia bluebells), as well as a great place to soak up the golden hues and other colors of the white, bur and black oak; shagbark hickory; and sugar maple trees in the fall. I bet the snowshoeing is pretty fun in the winter, too, when a deep blanket of snow covers the forest floor. Illinois Nature Preserves are special places because they protect the highest quality natural lands in the state. The Illinois Nature Preserves Commission says that “these lands are the last remnants of the Illinois wilderness.”
Soon after you exit the parking lot and begin walking the 0.27 mile loop trail, you will leave civilization behind and quickly be overwhelmed by a forest of green, wildflowers, and a birdsong (including more than 80 species such as the scarlet tanager and eastern wood-pewee) that I wish had a decibel meter to measure.
The trail eventually takes you to Rock Creek, a pretty meandering waterway that runs through the preserve. Take the time to explore the subtrails that travel along the creek and take a break by sitting on a fallen tree branch and simply experience the sights, sounds, and smells of the forest. Don’t rush back to your car. There’s no need to get back to the “rat race” anytime soon. Take some time to explore, look for fossils in the creek bed, enjoy the spring flowers or fall colors, and otherwise savor this pretty stretch of nature in a Chicago south suburb. And take a moment to thank the visionaries who loved this spot so much that they protected it from being paved over and turned into yet another subdivision or strip mall.
After your visit to Raccoon Grove, check out the following preserves. Remember that these are located in suburban and rural areas, so travel times are much faster than they would be in Chicago. I visited Messenger Woods and McKinley Woods on the same day I hiked at Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve.
Monee Reservoir (literally across Governors Highway from Raccoon Grove, but the entrance is 2 miles away)
Orland Grassland (19 miles northwest)
Messenger Woods Nature Preserve (23 miles northwest)
Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie (25 miles west)
Cap Sauers Holding Nature Preserve (27 miles northwest)
McKinley Woods (40 miles west)
Indiana Dunes National Park (53 miles northwest)
Indiana Dunes State Park (53 miles northwest)
Copyright (text/photos) Andrew Morkes/Nature in Chicagoland
2021 BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT
Looking for more great nature destinations in Chicagoland? If so, I just published Nature in Chicagoland: More Than 120 Fantastic Nature Destinations That You Must Visit. It features amazing destinations in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Click on the title to learn more.
ABOUT ANDREW MORKES
I have been a writer and editor for more than twenty-five years. I’m the founder of College & Career Press (2002); the editorial director of the CAM Report career newsletter and College Spotlight newsletter; the author and publisher of “The Morkes Report: College and Career Planning Trends” blog; and the author and publisher of Hot Health Care Careers: 30 Occupations With Fast Growth and Many New Job Openings; Nontraditional Careers for Women and Men: More Than 30 Great Jobs for Women and Men With Apprenticeships Through PhDs; They Teach That in College!?: A Resource Guide to More Than 100 Interesting College Majors, which was selected as one of the best books of the year by the library journal Voice of Youth Advocates; and other titles. They Teach That in College!? 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. I’m also a member of the parent advisory board at my son’s school.
In addition to these publications, I’ve written more than 40 books about careers for other publishing and media companies. I’ve written and edited many books for Infobase including the venerable Encyclopedia of Careers & Vocational Guidance, the Vault Career Guide to Accounting, and many volumes in the Careers in Focus, Discovering Careers, What Can I Do Now?!, and Career Skills Library series.