to Illinois, in an attempt to describe the unfamiliar terrain they
were encountering, referred to it as a sea of grass with pretty
flowers. Today, Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area serves
as testimony to the prairies that once covered nearly 60 percent
of the state.
Located in Grundy
County, Goose Lake Prairie is approximately 50 miles southwest of
Chicago and 1 mile southwest of the confluence of the Kankakee and
Des Plaines rivers. More than half of Goose Lake Prairie is a dedicated
nature preserve, protected by law for future generations from any
change to the natural environment. In addition to furnishing a look
into Illinois past, the prairie provides important nesting
habitat for endangered or threatened birds, such as the
upland sandpiper and Henslows sparrow.
Goose Lake Prairie
was sculpted by glaciers. The flat landscape with its clay-based
soils was formed as the last vast sheets of ice melted more than
14,000 years ago. The area became part of a continuous grassland
that stretched from Indiana to the Rockies.
At one time,
well over half of Illinois was covered with prairies, earning it
the nickname of The Prairie State. Goose Lake Prairie,
whose original 240 acres were purchased by the state in 1969, now totals 2,537 acres and is the largest remnant of prairie
left in Illinois. Buffalo, wolf and prairie chicken once inhabited
the area that is now Goose Lake Prairie.
groups of Native Americans lived northwest of the area in what is
now Morris. Tribes of the Illini confederation intermittently inhabited
the area, hunting and planting corn, squash and beans. They and
other Native Americans, including the Potawatomi led by Chief Shabbona,
existed with the land, making few permanent changes.
on the land for their livelihoods, made drastic changes to the area:
they planted trees to serve as windbreaks and fences for their farms;
in an effort to gain more farmland, they drained the 1,000-acre
Goose Lake; they removed the underlying clay,
first to make pottery and jugs and later for firebrick; they mined
coal beginning in the 1820s and in 1928 began surface mining the land.
Goose Lake Prairie
State Natural Area is a study in contrasts. Tall Grass Nature Trail
displays the largest stand of tall grass prairie remaining in Illinois.
Many of the park's ponds and marshes resulted from the 1890 decision by local farmers to drain Goose Lake. Prairie
View Trail takes you to the highest point in Goose Lake Prairie
- a surface mine spoil mound - and offers a panoramic view of reclaimed
prairie and prairie marsh and mine areas.
Lake Prairie today is much like seeing the Prairie State as it was
150 years ago. Tall prairie grasses, including big bluestem, Indian
grass and switch grass, make up 60 percent of the prairie. By far
the tallest of the prairie grasses is prairie cordgrass, commonly reaching heights
of 8 to 12 feet. When youre near 2-foot-tall northern prairie
dropseed, you may get the sudden urge to see a movie - its seeds
smell like hot buttered popcorn.
flowering plants, known collectively as forbs, compose the prairies
other 40 percent. Cream false indigo, shooting star and violets
are the first to bloom in late April or early May, while
New England asters and goldenrod bring up the rear of the colorful
display in early September. Autumn is a lovely time on the prairie
- some say its the prettiest season of the year - as prairie
cordgrass, big bluestem, switch grass and other grasses turn bronze and
are the order of the day at Goose Lake Prairie. Animals living here
include deer, coyote, red fox, cottontail rabbit, muskrat, beaver
and badger. Barred owls, Kestrels, red-tailed and marsh hawks
are among the birds of prey you may see. Marsh birds, such as red-winged
blackbirds, killdeer, great blue herons and great egrets, might be
spotted in the warmer months, while waterfowl species include Canada
geese, wood ducks, mallards and blue-winged teals. In addition to
the areas year-round inhabitants, such as ringneck pheasants and
northern bobwhites, migrating birds include catbirds, eastern kingbirds
and a variety of warblers.
The marsh is
home to turtles, snakes and frogs, while butterflies frolic among
the flowers each spring and summer. Rare papaipema moths, previously
thought to be extinct,
have been found here.
cabin at Goose Lake Prairie stands as a monument to the pioneer
spirit. The original cabin was built by John and Agnes Cragg in
the late 1830s near Mazon, 10 miles to the southwest. A predecessor
to a truck stop, the Cragg cabin served as a stop on the old Chicago-Bloomington
Teamster Trail. The second story - which was added to accommodate
the Craggs six children, making it one of the first two-story
homes in Grundy County - earned the cabin the nickname of The
One of the best
ways to experience Goose Lake Prairie is to hit the trails. With
7 miles of hiking trails, youll
have many opportunities to view the plants and animals that make
the area unique.
- Tall Grass Nature
Trail is a self-guiding trek that winds through the prairie and
the trails trademark grasses of big bluestem and Indian grass,
which can grow to 8 feet in height.
- The Sagashka Trail allows a chance to contrast many different habitats - nature preserve, restoration areas and marshy areas supporting waterfowl.
- Prairie View
Trail, with 3.5 miles of moderate hiking, goes through prairie and
farmland. Visible are surface mine reclamation areas, low-lying marshes
the route you decide to take, the trail can be 1 or 3.5 miles long.
One loop offers a hard-packed, accessible surface. The surrounding terrain lets you see the effects of a turn-of-the-century attempt to gain more farmland by draining Goose Lake; farmers found the drained land, which remained wet even after the draining, was suitable only for grazing livestock, and some acreage couldn't even be used for that.
One of the major reasons why Goose Lake Prairie survived was
that it was generally far too wet to plant crops on. The marsh
was helped along by the decision to drain the lake, and today is
home to all kinds of wetlands wildlife.
Trails are available
for cross-country skiing in the winter. The trails are not for motorized vehicles, bicycles or dog sled teams. Check the visitor
center for maps.
Work up an appetite
along the trails, then stop for a bite to eat. Tables, grills, shelters,
water and toilets are provided at two picnic areas at Goose Lake
Center | Goose Lake Prairie Partners Webpage
Plan on a 30-minute or so stop at the visitor center, and you’ll enjoy your visit to Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area a little bit more. A video will acquaint you with the area, as will the center’s nature displays. The volunteers present different weekend programs year-round. Stop in the visitor center for a map of the trails for self guided hikes. Tour the Observation Deck from which you can see the natural beauty of the prairie from an elevated view point. Be sure to ask for directions to the Butterfly Barn to see the butterflies we raise yearly. Groups of 25 or more need advance permission from the site superintendent to enter the park.
Goose Lake Prairie is the 2,000-acre Heidecke
Lake, previously a cooling lake for Midwest Generation Collins Generation Station (now dismantled). The lake area is known as Heidecke State Fish & Wildlife Area.
Managed by the state, the lake offers fishing and hunting. A boat launch
is available only for those purposes. Water skiing,
swimming, wading, sailboating or personal watercraft are not allowed at Heidecke Lake. The boat access is open from 6 a.m. - sunset. The bank fishing access area is located on the east side of Heidecke Lake on Old Collins Road. Bank fishing access is open from 6:30 a.m. - sunset. Boat areas are open seven days a week, weather permitting.
City of Morris - Calendar of Events (815) 942-0103,
Dollinger Family Farm - Civil War Reenactment,
Corn maze, hayrides and pumpkins 7502 E. Hansel Road,
Channahon 60410 815-467-6166;
Grundy County Chamber of Commerce (815) 942-0113;
Grundy County Corn Festival - 919 N. Liberty Street, Morris 60450 (815) 942-2676;
Joliet Area Historical Museum - 204 N. Ottawa Street, Joliet 60432; (815) 723-9039; www.jolietmuseum.org
Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie - 30239 South St Rt 53, Wilmington 60481 (815) 423-6370;
From I-55 to
exit 240 Lorenzo Road/Pine Bluff Road travel west approximately
7.5 miles to Jugtown Road. Turn north on to Jugtown Road and travel
1 mile to entrance on the right side to Goose Lake Prairie State
Park, Visitor Center, and park trails.