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Oak Ridge Forest Preserve, by Melissa Cannell

Entrance on 8322 Blomberg  Road, Cherry Valley, IL

Oak Ridge 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 south branch of the Kishwaukee River.  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.

Immediately upon entering Oak Ridge you are greeted by a cheery yellow and purple prairie.  Follow the trail straight in to enter.  The path to the right is where you will exit.  The trail gives just the right amount of balance to prairie and forest.  Just when you are tired of the sun, it jogs into the forest for a bit, then back out for another glorious walk by the wildflowers.  Just after marker three there is a new trail marked that needs to be followed.  It is a skinnier path that goes down a hill into denser forestry, then back up after a quarter mile to rejoin the old trail.  Keep an eye out for deer through this area!

The wetland part of the trail now, the Kishwaukee River on your left, and the marsh on your right, 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.   After marker eight there will be a split in the path, straight leads back to that cheerful prairie at the entrance.  Left, does a loop less than a mile long, on land that could practically be considered an island as it is totally surrounded by water.

Hiking a longer trail such as this one at Oak Ridge makes it possible to forgot about day to day life and totally lose oneself in a the glory of nature for a few hours.  The trail moves in an out of different ecosystems; prairie, marsh, forest, river wetland, in a well balanced, beautiful hike, sure to captivate anyone who enters.