10 Years of the Dayton Bluffs Preserve

Dayton Bluffs picture
A little over 10 years ago, we received a phone call from a longtime member who knew our passion for saving open space, particularly in Kendall and LaSalle Counties. They had seen a For Sale sign on a property along the Fox River near Ottawa and recognized it as having been identified on our Lower Fox River Land Conservation Plan as a priority property for protection. That phone call was the first step down the road to saving this natural gem and precious place of nature for future generations that had been slated for development. Now instead of a subdivision, that land is now known as the Dayton Bluffs Preserve, the 253-acre anchor of our mission in LaSalle County and the Lower Fox River.


In the 10 years since that phone call, I and others have led more than a thousand people on hikes around the Dayton Bluffs Preserve, and thousands more have explored its scenic woodlands, ravines, and trails on their own, especially during the pandemic. The visitor experience has been enhanced greatly by the hard work of our Friends of the Dayton Bluffs Preserve volunteer group, some of the most dedicated, intelligent, and good-hearted people I have ever met. I could never possibly name all of the work and improvements they have done at the Dayton Bluffs Preserve, but here are a few of the standout projects that come to my mind:


  • Invasive species removal and restoration on approximately 150 acres of woodlands. The woodland views are so much more open now, and clearing the understory of invasive plant, shrub, and tree species has made way for a dazzling display of wildflowers.
  • Honoring of the land’s history and those who called it home. The Dayton Bluffs Preserve is truly hallowed ground, and the eternal resting place of both Native Americans and European settlers. Our volunteers have done extensive research into these peoples and restored both the trail and area around the Native American burial mounds and the Daniels Family Cemetery, a pioneer cholera cemetery.
  • Converting the farmland into native prairie. About 100 acres of the Dayton Bluffs Preserve were farmland at the time we purchased it, and now those fields are bursting with native prairie species, bluebirds, butterflies, and other wildlife, thanks to the meticulous care and management, including prescribed burns, seed collecting, and dispersal by our volunteers.
  • Accessibility. Creating handicapped accessible trails and the recent construction of an overlook have opened up the wonders of the Dayton Bluffs Preserve to people of all abilities. I was moved to tears hearing about the joyous reaction of a wheelchair-bound student who was able to experience this special place on an environmental education outing with his school thanks to the work of the Friends of the Dayton Bluffs!
  • Wetland restoration. Just this spring, our volunteers took on the project of planting two created wetlands to help with drainage and create habitat for amphibians, reptiles, birds, and other wildlife. They had no idea what a challenge lay ahead with the drought we find ourselves in, but in characteristic fashion they have not wavered in their care of these new natural features.


I feel pretty confident in saying that 10 years ago, most Ottawa residents had never heard of The Conservation Foundation. But they truly embraced us and the Dayton Bluffs Preserve, and I hear over and over again how much they value this land as a part of the beautiful Starved Rock Country. Watching a community fall in love with this piece of land has been one of the true honors of my career. And it has led to several more really exciting preservation successes, including the Harper’s Farm, Belrose Farm, and Blake’s Landing Nature Preserve projects. Thanks to the support of the Ottawa community and members like you, we are piecing together a large area of preserved lands not far from the suburbs, and in one of Illinois’ most beautiful regions where there is no forest preserve district or other preservation agency.


The Dayton Bluffs Preserve is a designated Land and Water Reserve by the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission, and will be part of their Illinois Nature Preserves 60th Anniversary celebration weekend. On August 26th, join us for guided hikes and exploration of this natural wonderland, preserved and protected for present and future generations through your support!


Make sure to check out the Dayton Bluffs Preserve page to view the map, learn more, and plan your visit!


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