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Rockford Rotary Forest Preserve, by Melissa Cannell

Entrance at 5390 Rotary Road, Cherry Valley, IL

The Rockford Rotary forest preserve has many hidden treasures to be discovered.  The winding hiking and equestrian trails lead through terrifically diverse woodlands that become even more spectacular as they change colors in the fall.  About 2.9 miles of dirt and grass hiking path overlay the 0.7 miles of equestrian path found here.  The trails wander around a tall forest with mild elevation changes, and through a couple open space campgrounds for youth, and picnic areas.  A careful eye will find that the path continues along the Kishwaukee River, past ravine, and aged remnants from when this area was owned by the Rotary Club as Camp Rotary in the mid 1900’s.

Prepare to explore when hiking the trails at Rockford Rotary forest preserve.  The paths tend to twist and turn, and branch off quite a bit, however, they always loop back before you can feel lost.  From the entrance off Rotary Road there is a small parking area and information booth.  To the left of the booth is a dirt trail entrance that will lead past the camping area and hook up with the rest of the trail loops, and the short paved road you see to the right of the information booth.  This paved road, if taken from the entrance, goes down a tall corridor of trees, past a large open fire pit area, turns left up a hill, and ends at a locked shelter house, outhouses, and water pump.  The paved road is a good reference point, as many paths eventually loop back to it.  Make sure to notice all the vines spiraling up to the tops of the trees.

There is an old, overgrown trail that was used back when this land was Camp Rotary.  This trail is not marked on the map so visit at your own risk and caution.  The trail goes west along the Kishwaukee River, ending across from the North Kishwaukee Gorge Forest Preserve.  Keep in mind this preserve ends before I-39.  When this land was Camp Rotary it was bustling year round with young campers.  To accommodate the campers there were a handful of structures such as; shelter house, mess hall, large winter cabin, sleeping cabins, and even a 150 foot long outdoor swimming pool.  Although these structures are gone now, hikers have found remnants, like an old chimney, along the river.

Another surviving piece of Camp Rotary, its’ purpose, can be found in all forest preserves.  The purpose of Camp Rotary, described in 1957 was as follows, “Camp Rotary exists because some men had a vision. Vision to realize that in a fast growing industrial center like Rockford there was a need for its boys and girls to have a healthful place to play.  A place where, under proper direction, they could get close to nature – a thing not possible for all in a crowded, busy industrial city”.  This is true today, not just for boys and girls, our forest preserves are here for all to enjoy and connect with nature, while protecting the natural land.