Laona Heights Sugar River Colored Sands Sugar River Two Rivers Ferguson Hartley Memorial Trask Bridge Four Lakes Pecatonica River Pecatonica Wetlands Crooked River Grove Creek Seward Bluffs Klehm Forest Preserve Severson Dells Fuller Memorial Cedar Cliff Indian Hill Hinchliff Memorial Kilbuck Bluffs Trailside Kishwaukee Gorge South Kishwaukee Gorge North Rockford Rotary Kishwaukee River Oak Ridge Blackhawk Springs Deer Run Espenscheid Memorial McKiski County Line Kieselburg Roland Olson Stone Bridge Clayton Andrews Ledges Hononegah J. Norman Jensen Millrace Isle Macktown Atwood Homestead Forest Preserve Headquarters

Preserve Profile: Oak Ridge

by Melissa Cannell

Oak Ridge is a favorite of equestrians, hikers and paddlers because of its appealing mix of woodlands, prairie and waterways. This forest preserve offers seven miles of moderately challenging, yet immensely rewarding hiking trail that continuously dips you in and out of the forest into prairie, marsh, and along the Kishwaukee River. In winter the hiking/equestrian trails can be explored on cross-county skis or snowshoes. Oak Ridge connects to Deer Run and Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserves, forming a larger habitat for wildlife. With this connection of preserves, and a longer trail, chances of seeing animals and birds are very high here! In the wetland areas you can see dozens of jumping frogs, and possibly a Green Heron, Eastern Kingbird, or Great Egret. In the forest you can find deer (or at least their tracks), woodpeckers, and maybe a barred owl. This trail is shared with equestrians, so make sure to have sturdy shoes for a bumpier, sometimes muddy path. The trail is very easy to navigate and well marked. There are about a dozen direction posts, one through eight numbered trail markers, and two trail maps within the forest. Walking at a good pace the trail can be enjoyed in less than three hours.

The wetland part of the trail follows the Kishwaukee River on your left, and a marsh on your right. This is where you will find the most wildlife. Stop and relax by one of the two marked equestrian river crossings into Deer Run Forest Preserve. Listen and watch closely for water birds, and animals coming for a drink. Continuing to walk along the river there will be prairie on your right prolific with giant great angelica flowers about five feet tall. The only bench on the trail is at marker six, a very calm place to watch the prairie, as you hear the river whispering behind you. In May, Oak Ridge boasts a “don’t miss” display of Virginia bluebells that carpet the forest floor in the northern section along the river.