Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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The Palos Preserves: Part Two: Their Attractions for People
Nature Bulletin No. 712   April 6, 1963
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Seymour Simon, President
Roberts Mann, Conservation Editor

The Palos forest preserves are as attractive to people as they are to wildlife and, less than 10 miles from the city limits of Chicago, they harbor wildlife populations that are phenomenal in a county with more than five million people. The reason, of course, is that they comprise our most diversified holdings as well as the largest, with vast unspoiled semi-wild interiors.

Their central feature is the wide Sag valley. North of it and south of it the preserves are mostly hilly and wooded, with openings that were farmers' fields many years ago. Included are ravines, springs, brooks, creeks, scores of ponds and potholes, large sloughs and lakes, two old limestone quarries, and even a narrow rock-walled canyon. All of this is the result of a unique geological and glacial history.

The Palos is likewise rich in traces and traditions of human history since the days of the mound builders -- centuries before Columbus discovered America -- until and after the first settler, James Paddock, came there in 1834. For example, on the bluff above the intersection of Archer Ave. and Ill. Route 83, overlooking the junction of the DesPlaines river and Sag valleys, stands St. James Church, founded in 1837. The church and cemetery occupy the site of an ancient Indian village and lookout. One mile easterly along the crest of Mt. Forest Island, is the site of the original Argonne National Laboratory where the world's first nuclear reactor was built in 1943.

The interiors have been preserved "as nearly as may be, in their natural state and condition" by confining intensive public use to the many small areas developed for such recreational activities on their fringes. Otherwise they are accessible only by walking, bicycling or horseback riding, and 32 miles of winding scenic trails have been constructed to encourage such use.

The Palos preserves are extensively used the year round because they have so many attractions for so many kinds of people. They furnish favorite areas for small picnics, family groups, nature lovers, botanists, wildlife observers, fishermen, hikers, equestrians and winter sports enthusiasts. Most important, perhaps, are the opportunities they offer -- so rare and priceless in a metropolitan region -- for a man or a boy, a woman or a girl, to find surcease from the hurly-burly of urban life. There, whether walking or fishing or just basking in the sunshine, the wrinkles in a troubled mind may be smoothed away.

As spring approaches and the frogs begin to sing, flocks of migrating waterfowl stop to rest and feed on McGinnis, Tampier, Saganashkee and Longjohn sloughs. Some of the ducks, herons, bitterns and shorebirds remain there to nest and rear their broods. Around the shores of sloughs and ponds, inhabited by muskrats, may be seen the tracks of mink, raccoon, foxes and deer. In Saganashkee there is a colony of beaver. Wild turkeys stalk through the remote woodlands.

In spring there are many areas notable for a profusion and variety of wildflowers; the hillsides along the highways and the interiors along the trails are resplendent with masses of hawthorns and crabapples in bloom. In summer, attracted by their greenness and coolness or by the many patches of wild berries, countless family groups roam the hills. Eight lakes and sloughs, from 15 to 325 acres in area, furnish the best yearlong hook-and-line fishing in our county. In autumn the waterfowl return and the woodlands, mostly oaks, display vistas of colorful foliage. The Palos preserves have something for everyone.

On Willow Springs Road, overlooking Longjohn Slough, is the Little Red Schoolhouse, nationally famous as the first of our three nature centers which will be reopened to the public on May 1st.

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