Oak Forest Heritage Preserve Now Open

Steeped in history, the Forest Preserves of Cook County’s recently opened Oak Forest Heritage Preserve provides residents and visitors the opportunity to learn the many distinct stories of how the site has been used throughout time while traversing nearly two miles of paved trail and immersing themselves in nature.


The 176.3-acre Oak Forest Heritage Preserve site, adjacent to the Oak Forest Health Center, was acquired by the Forest Preserves from Cook County in 2010 and has important ecological, cultural and historical value. Improvements to the site began in August 2014, and include a 1.7-mile loop trail and a series of interpretive signage telling the historic stories of the new forest preserve.


After the last retreat of the Wisconsin Glacier, approximately 14,000 years ago, the land area that includes Oak Forest Heritage Preserve has been a place of significance. This is due largely to its location at the transition between a morainal ridge left behind by the retreating glacier and the flat, open land of the Chicago Lake Plain, approximately 25-30 feet below.


The elevation of the moraine above the plains offered Native American inhabitants refuge from the heat and humidity of low-lying swamps, views of sweeping prairie fires and the oncoming enemy, and ready access to nearby woodlands for harvesting materials for housing and sustenance. In this position, the recessional edge also provided the best trail location for travel and trading. The value of this location to Native American culture was confirmed in 1958, when an archaeological investigation uncovered eight houses and mapped an entire Native American village—the first to be identified in northeastern Illinois. The site appears to have been occupied approximately around 1680.


In 1910, what was to later become Oak Forest Hospital and today’s Oak Forest Health Center, opened its doors as the Cook County Work Farm/Oak Forest Infirmary, a poor farm and home for the county’s indigent population.


In addition to the Poor Farm, the Oak Forest Infirmary property also served as a tuberculosis treatment center and burial site for the county’s indigent and many of those who died at Oak Forest Hospital. Written records of these burials have been preserved by Cook County, beginning March 4, 1911, and continuing through November 17, 1971.


Today, Oak Forest Heritage Preserve is considered a Cook County Department of Public Health “Healthy HotSpot,” and provides residents of Cook County the opportunity to engage in healthy recreation activities including walking, jogging and biking the 1.7-mile paved trail, as well as restful activities like bird and wildlife watching. The site has also been identified as a gateway site in the Forest Preserves’ Gateway Master Plan, which explores gateways as a class of special sites with identifiable entry-ways at various locations throughout the preserves to encourage people to take advantage of the natural open space available in Cook County.

Visit two of the treasures of the Forest Preserves of Cook County