The work of countless volunteers has transformed Somme into an ever-changing display of wildflowers, birds and other seasonal inhabitants.
From east to west, the Somme Preserves in Northbrook progress from shaded woodland to sun-dappled savanna and finally to wide-open prairie. But several decades ago, this natural distribution of ecosystems wasn’t so easy to discern, having become shrouded by dense thickets of invasive buckthorn. Pioneering habitat restoration efforts started here in the 1970s and continue today. The work of countless volunteers has helped tiny remnant pockets of native species spread into an ever-changing display of wildflowers, grasses, birds and other seasonal inhabitants.
Enjoying the Somme Preserves
Two-hundred-sixty-nine-acre Somme Woods is the easternmost of the three Somme Preserves, and the most wooded. Many parts of the woods now have a much more open feel, with woodland wildflowers once again thriving under giant oaks. Somme Woods offers a picnic shelter and tables, which are busy with reserved groups on summer weekends but a peaceful place for an impromptu meal at other times.
Across Waukegan Road to the west, 90-acre Somme Prairie Grove is savanna, a kind of grassland with scattered trees. A network of roughly 3.5 miles of narrow, natural-surface footpaths meanders through the preserve. An outer loop path starts at the preserve’s southeast corner and loosely follows the perimeter. Connected by spurs to a meandering inner loop path, the effect is a lovely maze through oak woodlands, savannas, prairies and around ephemeral ponds and swales. To avoid getting turned around (and to get the most out of what you’re seeing), bring along one of the seasonal self-guided tour narratives and maps created by the site steward and other volunteers. Because of ground-nesting birds at Somme Prairie Grove, dogs are discouraged here. (Note: Visiting Somme Prairie Grove requires crossing a busy street with no crosswalk or pedestrian signals.)
West of the train tracks and Chicago River, 74-acre Somme Prairie Nature Preserve is mainly open grassland. Dedicated as a state nature preserve for its high-quality prairie community, Somme Prairie also has a network of natural-surface footpaths that allow hikers to feel a part of the prairie, observing plants and insects up close. Given Somme Prairie’s nature preserve designation, dogs are not allowed.
Nature at the Somme Preserves
Active restoration has taken place in the Somme Preserves since the 1970s. Buckthorn and other invasive species have been removed from large areas, and a diversity of plant and animal life has returned. Birders travel the trails in the Somme Preserves to look for red-tailed hawks, indigo buntings, red-headed woodpeckers, great crested flycatchers, eastern bluebirds and rose-breasted grosbeaks.
Buckeye butterflies flit among the cardinal flowers, fringed gentian, blazing star, blue flag iris and stout blue-eyed grass. Somme also hosts butterflies such as great-spangled fritillary, wood nymph, eyed-brown. Coyotes enjoy these preserves, as do the chorus frogs that sing from the ponds and marshy areas.
To find out how you can join one of the regular volunteer workdays here, visit the Forest Preserves’ volunteer page.