Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Hiking the Lists #3: Volo Bog Nature Boardwalk

Hike: #3
Title: Volo Bog Nature Trail and Boardwalk
Location: Volo Bog State Natural Area
Hike list: Illinois
Difficulty: Easy
Duration of Hike: Half hour walk

Before I begin, I have to declare something, in the interest of full disclosure. Volo Bog is not a bog, at least not in terms of how a bog is defined. To be a bog, a wetland must get its moisture solely from precipitation, which is why bogs are so nutrient poor. However, there is at least one inlet into Volo Bog, and at least two outlets, which means water flows through here. Thus, it is actually a "fen" and not a bog.

Sure could have fooled me. It definitely looked like a bog, with the sphagnum moss, tamaracks, poison sumac, and various other water loving plant species to be found. Like bogs, this is a place where carnivorous plants live. I'm pretty certain I saw a few pitcher plants hidden beneath the tamaracks.

This is not one of the longer hikes to be found in these lists. If you just walked straight through, looking at nothing but the boardwalk in front of you, you could probably do it in about ten minutes, maybe less. However, why bother just walking through without stopping to look at things? During your short walk, you go through six different zones, from the outer mesic prairie all the way in to the interior, where the small pond that is the remnant of the glacial kettle lake can still be found.

During my hike, I could hear many different types of birds, including the wonderfully ancient sounding call of the Sandhill Crane. In fact, I saw a couple of these large birds wading around in the outer marshes looking for an early dinner. Although there were the common calls of cardinals and red-winged blackbirds, there were also other calls that I can't place. This looks like a great place to go and sit for a few hours to watch and listen for birds. In fact, there is a wildlife blind on the longer Tamarack View Trail**, which I'm guessing is a great place to observe birds and other animals.

When walking through the marsh, and in the floating interior of the site, you are walking on floating boardwalks. This can be a bit disorienting, but adds a bit of fun to what is a very flat walk. Be sure to keep on the boardwalk, as areas of the ground that look solid are anything but. In addition, there is plenty of poison sumac to be found, particularly in the shrub zones at the edge of the marsh and the remnant pond.

Beyond the sandhill cranes and the pitcher plants, the neatest part of the hike was seeing the tamaracks. These trees are pine trees, but they are rather eccentric ones. Each fall they drop their needles. The decaying needles release tannic acid into the water, staining it brown. When you see the tamaracks, you can tell you aren't in a typical Illinois setting. They are to northern wetlands what cypress trees are to our southern wetlands, at least in terms of trees that like to hang around wetlands.

The next time you are up on the north side of Chicago and have some time to spend, I recommend making the drive up Rand Road (US 12) to Volo Bog. It's amazing how many natural wonders are so close to our nation's third largest city, and Volo Bog is probably at the top of that list. There are picnic tables, a visitors center***, and toilets.

*And even worse at taking pictures of small plants, so I don't have any to help identify it.
**Also a hike that will eventually show up in this feature. I didn't walk it when I did this one, but rest assured I'll be back to Volo Bog.
***This was closed by the time I made it to the park in late afternoon. However, it looks like it is a nice place. The park closes at 8:00 every night, and signs ominously warn "Don't be locked in.".

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