Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Hiking the Lists: The Forest Glen 3 in 1

Hike: #12
Title: The Forest Glen 3 in 1
Location: Forest Glen County Preserve, Vermilion County, Illinois
Hike List: Illinois
Difficulty: Mostly easy, although a couple climbs and descents are momentarily steep and it could be quite muddy at certain times of the year.
Duration of Hike: 1-2 hours

OK, so the "Forest Glen 3 in 1" is not an official title for this hike. However, it's a lot easier than calling it the "Willow Creek, Deer Meadow, and most of the Old Barn trails combined into one Hike"*. Although not the longest hike in the park (that's the River Ridge Backpack Trail)**, or most spectacular showcase of Forest Glen's natural beauty (Big Woods), this hike is a good sampler.

During the three and a half miles of ups and downs, you'll walk through almost all of the different habitats that make up the diverse preserve that is Forest Glen. You'll come across the Beech/Maple zone at its western frontier, which are right next to the Oak/Hickory zone that make up the vast majority of woodlands in Illinois. In addition, you'll view not one but two of the seeps that are State Nature Preserves, and even dabble a bit in the riparian world of Willow Creek and Pond. The only major area of the park that you won't visit is the tallgrass prairie, which can probably be seen sitting beyond Willow pond during the winter months.

Parts of hike trail can be quite muddy after snowmelt and prolonged rainfall. In fact, to a person in shape, the muddiness is the only real challenge to be found. Save for a few places the footing is good when dry, and several of the largest climbs and descents have waterbars and steps to aid you. Very few climbs are steep, and those that are finish pretty quickly. Despite that, it is rarely flat past the first half of the Willow Creek trail, so you can still get a pretty good workout during your hike. While the largest creek crossings are over bridges, there is one place near the end of the Deer Meadows trail that can get your feet wet when conditions aren't dry. I would suggest wearing shoes and socks that you don't mind getting wet.

During my most recent hike, the forest was alive with the sound of birds enjoying a warm spring day. In addition to the ever present geese and crows (one of which was having a row with a hawk high above the Old Barn Trail), I saw and heard many other birds. Some, such as the cardinal, I was able to spot and recognize by its call. Others were birds that are probably pretty common and easy to identify, but as of yet I've not mastered identifying them, particularly since I was trying to maintain a steady pace. At various times, I heard a loud hammering in the woods along the Deer Meadows trail. It was certainly a woodpecker, and given how loud it was it may have been a pileated woodpecker. While not the first time I've heard or seen this bird, it is the first I've even considered encountering it at Forest Glen. As for mammals and other animals, I saw the ever present squirrels and deer.

This trail has been a particular "white whale" of mine since I started this feature. Not because of its spectacular scenery, or its difficulty to hike or reach. Several times over the past year I've planned on doing this hike so I could mark it off my list. However, various times I was either not feeling up to doing the hike (such as during my return to the trails last month) or didn't have the time. I'm glad I finally got it done, and recommend it if you've got the time and are in the area.

* A word of warning: Part of the original route of the Old Barn Trail appears to be no longer maintained. This part used to go through the tree research area before winding back towards the beginning near the far end of Willow Pond. However, the last time I walked through here, small trees and shrubs had grown across the trail, making it very difficult to get through. Save yourself some trouble by cutting back to the trail along Willow Pond. There isn't an official marker, but there is a place where the trail obviously moves away from the pond and towards the Tree Research Area. Here there are some pieces of wood standing across the old trail. Instead, follow a poorly marked new trail a very short distance to the outbound leg of the trail. Or, if you don't mind crawling through heavy foliage and branches, just continue along the original trail.

** About half of this hike is on the beginning of the River Ridge Backpack Trail. You'll notice this from the red markers and blazes seen along the trail. The part you walk along the Backpack Trail is at the start of the Willow Creek Trail to where the Primitive Loop branches off, and again when you hit the Old Barn Loop on the pond side back to the parking lot at the Sycamore Hollow Campus.

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