Throughout the Forest Preserves of Cook County, natural lands are reawakening as spring progresses. Our county is a phenomenally diverse landscape, with more than 40 different types of ecosystems in the Forest Preserves, each a home to an array of native plants and animals. If it’s been a while since you’ve planned a trip to the Forest Preserves—or if you’re looking to experience something new—now is a great time to explore our region’s natural heritage.
In south Cook County, the Calumet Region—which includes the Preserves’ Powderhorn Lake and Sand Ridge Campus—boasts the globally rare dune-and-swale habitat, formed when Lake Chicago began receding thousands of years ago, leaving behind a succession of small dunes with wetlands, or swales, in between the ridges. The juxtaposition allows a great diversity of life, from amphibians to pollinators, from oak trees to sedge meadows. There is no real downtime for a dune-and-swale habitat; the land flourishes continuously between May and October.
You can find beautiful northern flatwoods and forest in Busse Woods to the north, with some of the tallest trees in the Forest Preserves. While oak and maple tree leaves enjoy the sun from their towering canopies, the trees’ feet remain in perennially wet soil. In the spring, Busse Woods is an exceptional place to watch for migrating birds and to find ephemeral wildflowers.
In southwest Cook County, visitors to Cranberry Slough Nature Preserve can explore the county’s only peat moss bog, one of only a handful of this ecosystem in Illinois. Formed by an ice block stranded during the retreat of a glacier some 14,000 years ago, the bog is home to plants such as sphagnum moss, white wild indigo, marsh blazing star and tall bellflower. This habitat is an excellent home for amphibians like frogs and salamanders, reptiles and bats.
From gravel hill prairies to floodplain forests to wetland fens, the Forest Preserves has nearly 70,000 acres of diverse natural land that supports more than a hundred threatened or endangered species. We hope you’ll visit us this spring—and all year long—to take in and appreciate what makes nature in Cook County truly spectacular.