Welcome to “Babbling Brook”, a blog series featuring our fearless leader Brook McDonald as he rambles around northeastern Illinois!
I bet you hiked and spent more time outside in 2020. I know I did. In fact, I spent more time hiking and exploring nature in 2020 than in any year I can remember. That might seem odd coming from a “nature guy,” but it’s true. I hope you will not stop just because it’s now Winter.
My wife and I have always regularly visited our local forest preserves (Kendall County) and occasionally spent a half or full day exploring natural areas further away, usually coupled with food at a local restaurant. If there was a winery nearby, we might hit that, as well (Genoa and Utica have some of our favorite local wineries). It’s just a fun day for us. We have explored some really nice natural areas in Northern Illinois and are realizing Illinois isn’t that boring, after all.
When COVID hit last Spring, we were just as shocked and concerned as everyone else, but decided it was an opportunity to spend more time outside exploring our local forest preserves in more depth. There wasn’t much else to do. We took advantage of the beautiful Spring weather and literally watched nature unfold on a daily basis. After working at home all day, we usually took off around dinner time with a picnic basket and headed out to the many local forest preserves we have near us. We are lucky to have several- Jay Woods FP, Hoover FP, Richard Young FP, Lyons FP, and one of our new favorites, Harris FP in Yorkville. We really never spent much time at Harris before, but found that the Spring wildflowers are quite amazing. We went every day unless it was raining, packed PBJ sandwiches (chicken salad was a special treat) and had a rotation so we would be able to see each place evolve throughout the Spring. We noticed the wildflowers at each location were on their own schedule, some more advanced than others based on available sunlight, slope location and soil moisture. It was interesting to contrast and compare.
Another “silver lining” was I birded more in Spring 2020 than I have over the past 30 years. I always participate in the Kendall County Bird Count in early May, but this year I covered two locations and found some new birds for the lists, including a first-time whip-poor-will in my neighbor’s yard, and a red-breasted nuthatch at Jay Woods that appeared while I was literally calling in a barred owl. My wife and I have documented more than 100 species of birds in our yard and neighborhood over the past 20+ years. This past year, we finally got around to making the list.
Once we realized that the pandemic was going to last longer than expected, we decided to really make an effort to explore new places within an hour or so of our home (near Plano). At least the restaurants were somewhat open during Summer and Fall. Some new places we visited and recommend are Franklin Creek State Natural Area and Nachusa Grasslands (both near Franklin Grove), Amboy Marsh Nature Preserve (Amboy), Green River State Wildlife Area (Harman), and Mitchell’s Grove State Natural Area (LaSalle). One day we left early and hit Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie (Wilmington), Goose Lake Prairie (near Morris), and Kankakee Sands and Braidwood Dunes forest preserves (both near Braidwood) all in one day! Of course, you have probably been to Starved Rock State Park (Utica) many times, and you can never get enough of the many canyons there.
So, my point with sharing all of this with you is that since we all really enjoyed spending time in nature in 2020, this should continue. Why stop it in 2021? Keep doing it and explore some new places. Whether it’s a new forest preserve in your county or a neighboring county, there are so many beautiful places to explore. And please consider taking some day trips out to some of those places I listed above. They really are worth the trip, and please support local restaurants when they reopen. They need help.
This year we are hosting a series of members-only hikes to encourage you to stay outside. Our intern Juliet wrote a wonderful blog about how to properly dress and stay comfortable outside in Winter, and our friends at Recreate Responsibly Coalition have good tips on being COVID safe while outside.
So, stay healthy by making sure you spend time in nature in 2021. I will share some of my trips and experiences with you in future blogs and hope you will explore some new and beautiful natural places in 2021. I hope you will share your stories with us, as well.
Just like eating your vegetables, being in nature is good for you!
Written by Brook McDonald, President/CEO