Prior to the Arctic blast and a day after a fresh fallen snow, my wife and I visited one of our favorite forest preserves on a Saturday in January- Russell Woods Forest Preserve in DeKalb County. Its entrance is right off of IL Rt. 72 next to the high school, 11750 State Rt. 72, Genoa. The entrance road can be a little rough as it extends into the woods behind the high school. Look for bluebirds along the entrance road as we often see them flittering around the nesting boxes.
Russell Woods is a 126-acre preserve with mostly woods, a floodplain, and some meadows. The beautiful Kishwaukee River flows through the preserve, and has canoe access and a bridge across the waterway. The river is known for its scenic beauty and is well-traveled by canoe and kayak enthusiasts. We like to park back by the Natural Resources Center, and the road back to there is beautiful as it runs along the river. From there it is easy access to the trails.
The loop trail through the woods behind the center is pretty amazing. It has lots of red oak, but what has always impressed me are the number of cherry trees and the number of LARGE cherry trees. Cherry is not a tree that gets as big as oak or other “climax” species, but there are more, large cherry trees here than anywhere else I have seen. Many of the cherries are falling down as they are getting to their top age. Also behind the center is a short loop paved trail exhibiting different wildlife/bird nesting boxes as educational displays.
Our favorite trail is across the river in the floodplain forest (take the walking bridge over the river). It’s fun to hike there in winter with a little snow, but it especially pops in the spring when the wildflowers go crazy. A walking trail meanders along the river and you can see how busy the beavers have been as they have gnawed some large hackberry and silver maple trees next to the water. I am told smallmouth bass fishing is quite good here and we often see kids fishing along the banks. In winter, the vernal ponds in the floodplain freeze over and you can walk on top of them. When we were there, someone hiked right before us and we were able to follow their footsteps as the trail was hard to recognize. In the spring and early summer, these ponds come alive with frogs.
The other trail we like starts near the sledding hill and goes to a wet meadow. Look for the yellow-billed cuckoos and marsh wrens in the summer. Make sure you stop and sit on the bench as you enjoy the wetland and notice what it says on the bench (“Thank You The Conservation Foundation”). The trail extends west to the historic Hoppe Heritage Farmstead (circa 1835).
After some hiking and exploring, my wife and I like to head back into Genoa and if open, hit the Prairie State Winery. They have a lovely outdoor wine garden and the inside areas are quite comfortable. We hope they will be opening up this spring and summer. They have a variety of wines, sweet and dry, and sometimes serve sandwiches.
I know it seems far out there, but take a day trip to Russell Woods sometime and relax, take in the beauty of the woods, the river and the countryside. It’ll make you feel good.
Written by Brook McDonald, President/CEO