Photo: Joe Occhiuzzo
THE ECOSYSTEMS OF THE FOREST PRESERVES OF COOK COUNTY
From sand prairies to floodplain forests, the preserves contain multitudes
As the crow flies, the Forest Preserves of Cook County stretch 59 miles from Spring Lake Nature Preserve, in Barrington Hills, to Plum Creek Forest Preserve in Sauk Village. Acquired over a century, the preserves cover nearly 69,000 acres—an impressive 11 percent of the entire county.
Many forest preserves follow river valleys or creeks. Some cover rolling, wooded highlands. Still others occupy low, sandy ancient lake plains. These diverse and fascinating places support distinct communities of plants and animals, from red-headed woodpeckers and blue-spotted salamanders to Hine’s emerald dragonflies and large-flowered trillium—all species that require wild habitat to survive.
For the last 7,000 years or so, Cook County has been a subtly shifting mosaic of prairie, savanna, open woods and forests, rivers and bird-filled wetlands. Today’s forest preserves include most of the natural communities believed to have been present in Cook County before European settlement.
Some parts of the preserves are remnant natural communities, places where the land has been touched only lightly by modern disturbances such as grazing, logging, farming and roads. Here the land still undergoes most natural processes, expresses its original character and retains most of its plants, animals, fungi, bacteria and microscopic life. These sites are the arks from which more degraded areas are restored, and from which we can learn the most about our natural heritage.
The ecosystems within the Forest Preserves of Cook County are something to be proud of. These prairies, woodlands and wetlands—many globally rare—are woven deeply into Cook County’s history and identity. Each is a unique and ever-changing wonder to learn about, enjoy and protect.
Read more about the ecosystems of the Forest Preserves of Cook County: