Wampum Lake has long been a favorite site for visitors of all ages looking for a beautiful setting in south suburban Cook County to come together with friends and family. With nearly 1 mile of shoreline, the lake itself offers excellent year-round fishing opportunities, and the 412-acre site has shady picnic groves and large open spaces to play catch. Thanks to continued restoration efforts, Wampum Lake is now also a place to see high-quality natural habitats.
The Illinois Nature Preserve Commission recently dedicated 380 acres of the site as Wampum Lake Nature Preserve, a mosaic of sand seep, freshwater marsh, dry-mesic upland forest, wet floodplain forest and eroding bluff community. Thorn Creek runs through Wampum Lake, beginning at the southwest corner of the site and flowing up to the northwest side of the lake.
Within these diverse habitats, Wampum Lake Nature Preserve is home to four plant species currently listed as State-endangered. Common plant species found at Wampum Lake Nature Preserve includes sweet cicely, false nettle, black-clustered snakeroot and cinnamon fern; as well as several species of oak trees such as black oak, white oak and pin oak. While winding through Wampum Lake via footpaths, visitors may also spot a variety of birds such as white-breasted nuthatches, great-horned owls and downy woodpeckers; as well as different mammals including deer, racoons, eastern moles and beavers.
In addition to ecological significance, Wampum Lake Nature Preserve also offers incredible cultural and historic significance.
“This site has a long history of settlement and use by Native American peoples; and more recently, early European settlers in northeast Illinois,” explains Chip O’Leary, deputy director of the Forest Preserves’ Resource Management Department. Cultural elements from Wampum Lake are preserved at the Illinois State Museum.
Dedication of a site as an Illinois Nature Preserve provides the highest level of protection for land in Illinois, and is granted to natural areas of exceptional ecological quality. The Forest Preserves of Cook County manages 24 dedicated nature preserves—the most of any entity in the state. The addition of Wampum Lake Nature Preserve brings the Forest Preserves’ total Illinois Nature Preserve protected lands to approximately 6,894 acres.