prairie vistas filled with blazing stars are a summer highlight
of this former dairy farm... in autumn, migrating sandhill
cranes are seen overhead
|Cook County, Illinois
Spears Woods is 444 acres of wide woods,
cozy wetlands, and spacious prairie knolls. Named after
the early settler John Spear, who owned the property, the
site was once a dairy farm.
at the trail that leads west from the parking lot. When
the trail splits after a few hundred feet, take the fork
that dips southwest into the center of the site. The woods
to the right (north) are a fine example of open woods maintained
by fire. Official restoration work, begun at the site in
1990, seeks to promote this natural process the fire
keeps woods open so that a healthy ground cover can grow.
The soft orange of false dandelion and a fine population
of broad-leaved panic grass are among the species here.
From I-294, exit at 95th St and
head west to Roberts Rd. Go north for a mile, then
head west on 87th St to La Grange Rd (Rte 45). Turn
left and go south for a half mile. The parking lot
is on the right.
From I-55, exit at LaGrange Rd
and drive south for two miles.
The south side of the trail is a dense
woodland with an abundance of nonnatives such as the Japanese
barberry bush. The European buckthorn shrub that smothers
so many unmanaged sites has been removed here and from
nearly the entire site. Still, more controlled burns,
lots of native seed, and time will be required before
this area becomes the healthy and diverse native habitat
it should be.
Further along the trail, the first
of the site's three prairie knolls (or old fields, for
those less romantic) appears. About 30 acres in size,
this prairie gives a sense of the intimate vistas for
which Spears Woods is prized. Blazing stars send up magenta
flares in early August, particularly after a burn. (For
a great photo of them, see the front cover of the Summer
2002 issue of Chicago WILDERNESS.) Orchard orioles
inhabit the prairie edges during the growing season. In
autumn, keep an ear cocked for the trills of migrating
flocks of sandhill cranes overhead.
Now a trail junction offers several
options. The west branch leads to the fishing hole, Boomerang
Slough. Beyond it are two more prairies, also about 30
acres each, that unfortunately are in danger of being
overwhelmed by brush because of a lack of needed fire.
The east branch passes though extensive woods, but the
south branch is the most scenic. Open woods give way to
Hogwash Slough and its surrounding fringe of wetland.
The great bulrush is a notable plant here. This slough
is home to chorus frogs, muskrats, and waterfowl. In the
fall, the water reflects the russet tones of the white
oaks that surround it. Come out after the leaves fall
when the site's vistas really open up.
Horses and bikes are welcome at Spears
Woods, but must remain on the two miles of official trails.
The trails are also open for cross-country skiing. Pets
must be leashed. Volunteer workdays are every second Saturday
of the month at 9:00 a.m. For more information call (708)