Secluded Will County preserve set to open Aug. 10
BY CINDY WOJDYLA CAIN firstname.lastname@example.org July 17, 2013 9:57PM
Updated: August 19, 2013 11:47AM
WESLEY TOWNSHIP — Birds tweet and a lone cow moos, but what really sets the Ballou Road Access forest preserve apart are the sounds of silence.
“You’re not going to hear a truck go by; you’re not going to hear anything go by,” Will County Forest Preserve District spokesman Bruce Hodgdon said. “This is truly a rural preserve. There’s not a house in sight.”
The secluded 295-acre chunk of woods, prairie and farmland is quiet for now, but come Aug. 10, the place will be hopping during the Forked Creek Preserve’s — Ballou Road Access grand opening ceremony. The free event will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and will feature live music, entertainment and demonstrations.
The preserve, which is located off of Ballou Road, one mile east of Route 102 in Wilmington, will serve as the southernmost access for the district’s longest recreational path, the Wauponsee Glacial Trail.
The trail stretches 22 miles from the Kankakee River north to Interstate 80 in Joliet. So far, the main trail access point has been the district’s Sugar Creek Administration Center on Laraway Road in Joliet.
The trail is asphalt north of Sugar Creek for pedestrian or bicycle use. But the path is crushed limestone and open for equestrian use south of Sugar Creek.
Sugar Creek has parking available for horse trailers and now so will Ballou Road.
Fourth dog park
Ballou Road also will be home to the district’s fourth dog park and its first “doggie fountain,” a water fountain designed for both two-legged and four-legged creatures. The 9-acre dog park is divided into three 3-acre sections: one for small dogs and two that will be rotated for larger dogs.
The rotation is needed to let the grass recover from wear and tear, Hodgdon said. Also, at this dog park, the district is experimenting with a stronger blend of grass seed, said district landscape architect Colleen Novander, who was the project manager for Ballou Road Access.
“It’s made for soccer fields,” she said. “It’s supposed to be a heartier mix.”
This is the first time the district has used something other than standard Illinois Department of Transportation turf mix for a dog park. After consulting with seed specialists, the district planted a mix of focus tall fescue, micro tall fescue and creeping red fescue, Novander said.
Time to grow
So far, only 20 acres have been developed at Ballou Road Access for parking, pavilions, the dog park, grills, latrines and two primitive camping sites.
“We’re going to see how the permits go to see if we need to expand it,” Novander said of the camping area, which is nestled in a stand of trees.
The $1 million project was funded in part by a $400,000 Open Space Land Acquisition Development grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. A 1999 referendum approved by voters funded acquisition of the land from 2000 to 2002.
While most of the work was finished at the beginning of June, the district needed to let the newly planted vegetation mature before the preserve opened.
“We’re letting the prairie and turf seed pop before the public uses it and tramples on it,” Novander said. “Once it’s open to the public, it’s hard to get this established.”
The prairie mix includes side-oats grama, prairie carex mix, Canada wild rye, June grass, switch grass and little bluestem.
Protective plastic sleeves were placed on young trees to protect them from deer before the dog park fencing was installed.
“The deer were rubbing up against them and tearing the bark off,” Novander said.
When preserves are created, “It’s all about protecting what’s out there while inviting the public to experience it,” Novander said. “You try to enhance the natural features.”
Follow the creeks
Ballou Road Access is the newest section of the 700-plus-acre Forked Creek preserve area, which is the largest watershed in Will County, said Marcy DeMauro, the district’s executive director. The creek area was once under water and part of Lake Wauponsee, which formed about 10,000 years ago when the glaciers were retreating from Illinois, DeMauro said.
Glaciers scraped the area, forming ridges and river valleys that are now home to wetlands and wildlife, she said.
“When you look at our map, you see that throughout the county we have been very strategic in what we’ve tried to preserve,” DeMauro said. “We want to preserve the areas that have unique natural resources and still have their remaining natural communities, things like the forests and the wetlands and the prairies. In Will County, a lot of those areas are along water courses. ... You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to figure out we follow the creeks.”
For more information on the Ballou Road Access grand opening or the forest preserve district, visit www.reconnectwithnature.org or call 815-727-8700.