Woods Forest Preserve
Lyman Woods, with 135 acres
of oak woodland, prairie, and wetland, is a rare gem in
the middle of the historic and lively village of Downers
Lyman Woods is
located just north of Downers Grove. Take I-88 to
Downers Grove and exit at Highland Ave South. Go about
a half mile to the 33rd St preserve entrance. The
preserve is east of Highland Avenue, north of Good
Thousands of years ago when the
glaciers receded from the area, they left behind glacial
kames and huge boulders, known as glacial erratics, that
shape the preserve today. In 1839, the Reverend Orange Lyman
came to this area and purchased a large section of land,
a portion of which is now Lyman Woods Preserve.
The Lymans were livestock farmers
and used the land for grazing. Some of their home's foundation,
and remnants of the rock road they built leading to it,
are still visible within the preserve. Jessie Woodford Lyman,
wife of Orange Lyman's great-grandson, preserved 17.5 acres
of original oak savanna that are now designated as an Illinois
In 1966, George Williams College
bought a large piece of the Lyman land. In the mid 1980s
Midwest University bought the campus, but the natural areas
were put up for sale. The Village of Downers Grove and the
Forest Preserve District of DuPage County bought 81 acres,
including the oak savanna. The Downers
Grove Park District later became part owner and manager
of this land through an intergovernmental agreement. Good
Samaritan Hospital also bought some of the George Williams
College land and granted a permanent seven-acre easement
adjacent to the preserve. Over the years, several parcels
have been added to the preserve, including 38 acres slated
for redevelopment but saved in 1997 after two years of valiant
effort by the Pierce Downer Heritage Alliance.
Entering the preserve by way of "Spur
Trail," visitors will find woods dominated by red
and white oaks. Their distinctly shaped leaves turn red,
orange, and brown in the fall. The preserve's restoration
management plan includes regular prescribed burns, so
a return visit in the spring often reveals a rich display
of woodland wildflowers including trillium, wild hyacinth,
trout lily, and green dragon. The state-threatened pretty
sedge grows here as well.
Continuing east along the trail, a
meadow opens up to reveal a true sign that summer is coming
to a close: goldenrod glowing tall among senescent native
grasses and forbs. In the northeast corner of the preserve,
straddling a Midwest University easement, a small remnant
prairie sits atop a glacially deposited hill of gravel
called a kame. Compass plants and prairie dock flower
in the fall, as do blazing stars and a variety of native
sunflowers and asters. The state-endangered Hill's thistle
also occurs here.
The traveler can circle the meadow
on the spur trail or head south to pick up the main trail
that borders marshes and a pond. This trail then traverses
a bottomland woods, with its characteristic wet-footed
swamp white oaks. These wet areas also benefit from periodic
burns. In late summer you will see a pageant of cow parsnip,
some up to ten feet tall. The Park District recently planted
false nettle, lobelia, and ironweed.
The marshes abound with waterfowl
and support several amphibian species, including chorus
frogs and tiger salamanders. Painted turtles, red-eared
sliders, and northern brown water snakes have also been
found here. Lacey Creek runs through Lyman Woods. Restoration
work has begun upstream and, in cooperation with the Forest
Preserve District of DuPage County, will soon begin in
At the south end of the site, adjacent
to Good Samaritan Hospital, is the most outstanding feature
of Lyman Woods: a 17-acre oak savanna. A breathtaking
illustration of Downers Grove's presettlement landscape,
some of the bur oaks here are 200 years old. Stand among
these ancient trees, where time has stood still, and the
world seems calm. False foxglove and cream gentian grow
here late summer to fall. The rare nodding trillium is
among the preserve's spring wildflowers.
More than 300 birds reside in or migrate
through Lyman Woods. "At educational programs we
ask kids to find a species for every color in the rainbow,"
said Michelle Grove, manager of natural areas for the
Downers Grove Park District. "This spring we found
scarlet tanagers, indigo buntings, and ruby-crowned kinglets."
Cooper's hawks, red-tailed hawks, great horned owls and
eastern bluebirds reside at Lyman year-round.
A visitor's center is under construction
in a part of Lyman Woods where more than 120 mature trees
were felled by a developer before the current owners acquired
the property. It is scheduled to open in late January
for winter programming. The building will have a "green
roof" that sports native grasses and plants. A grand-opening
celebration is scheduled for Arbor Day, April 25, 2003.
Restoration work, including brush
clearing and native plant seeding, is ongoing at Lyman.
Volunteering to help with this work is a great way to
come to know and appreciate the site. To participate,
call Laura Weizorick, volunteer coordinator, or Michelle
at (630) 963-1304.
To protect Lyman Woods, home to 300
native plant species and 17 mammal species, hiking is the
only activity permitted. There are two miles of trails.
Groups must have a reservation and a guide. Pets are not
allowed. For further information, contact the Downers Grove
Park District at (630) 963-1304.
Don't miss the nearby 30-acre gem of Belmont
Prairie, located west of the Downers Grove Golf
Course on Haddow Avenue. Belmont Prairie is owned by the
Downers Grove Park District, (630) 963-1304. Ten acres are
dedicated as an Illinois Nature Preserve and there are over
175 species of plants, some rare.
Grove Park District Museum, (630) 963-1309, is located
at Wandschneider Park, just two blocks east of Main Street.
Located in a Victorian home built in 1892, this 11-room
museum gives a fascinating glimpse into the past. Admission
is free; hours vary.
Morton Arboretum, (630) 719-2400, is located in
neighboring Lisle on Rte. 53, north of I-88, and is open
all day, 365 days a year. Twenty-five miles of trails and
twelve miles of roadway wind through the arboretum's 1,500
acres, which harbor more than 3,000 kinds of trees, shrubs,
and vines from around the world. Admission: $7 car, $20
van; reduced fees on Wednesdays. Members are always free.
To the east of Downers Grove awaits
the world-famous Brookfield
Zoo, (630) 485-0263, at 1st Avenue and 31st Street
in Brookfield. Here visitors can enjoy and learn about more
than 2,700 animals representing more than 400 species. Open
every day of the year; hours vary. General admission: adults
$7, children $3.50, seniors $3.50, members free. Call about
free Tuesdays and Thursdays.
To the west of Downers Grove is Naper
Settlement (630) 420-6010, where people can tour
19th-century homes, businesses, a schoolhouse, and a chapel,
all with interpreters who bring Naperville's history to
life. Adults $6.50, seniors $5.50, children 4-17 years $4.
Closed Mondays; call for hours.
Bamboleo, (630) 434-0300, on Main Street and Curtiss
Avenue in Downers Grove, is a local favorite for Mexican
food (Heading south from Lyman Woods, Highland Avenue becomes
Main Street.) Lunch $5-$15; dinner $8-$19. Open every day
try the fajitas.
Cafe, (630) 435-9520, at Maple and Belmont Avenues
in Downers Grove, has a good chef and offers a variety of
American dishes. Lunch $5-$9; dinner $5-$13. Zander's is
open every day except Sunday; they close at 3:00 p.m. on
Mondays. Tuesday night is pasta night.
Khan Restaurant, (630) 629-8989, at Finley and Butterfield
Roads, is a long-time Downers Grove favorite for Mongolian
food. The lunch buffet is $7.95; dinner buffet $11.95. Mongolian
stir-fry is the most popular item. A full menu is also available.
Open every day.
At Founders Hill Brewing Company,
(630) 963-2739, Main and Grove Streets, you can enjoy Downers
Grove's local microbrews and regional American fare. You
can enjoy sandwiches, ($7) to filets ($20), with live entertainment
on weekend nights. Open for lunch Friday through Sunday;
open for dinner every day.
The closest place to camp is at Blackwell
Forest Preserve in Warrenville. Owned by the Forest
Preserve District of DuPage County, Blackwell has 60 campsites
(available May through mid October, Friday and Saturday
nights only), canoe access to the West Branch of the DuPage
River, eight miles of multipurpose trails, access to the
Illinois Prairie Path, and fishing and boating on Silver
Lake. Boat rentals are available. Camping fees are $10-$15
per night. For detailed information on camping reservations,
call (630) 933-7200 or visit "Camping
in DuPage County Forest Preserves."
The Downers Grove Visitor's Guide
includes a list of accommodations and restaurants to fit
every budget. Call the Downers Grove Visitor's Bureau at
(800) 934-0615 or see Downers
Grove Tourism & Events.
January 24-26, 2003 Ice
Downtown Downers Grove, (800) 934-0615. This festival features
an ice carving contest with professional carvers competing
for prize money. Ice sculptures are on display at the Main
Street Train Station, throughout the downtown, and at the
Downers Grove Museum. Bring the family down to enjoy the
strolling street characters. Local vendors offer hot chocolate,
apple cider, and other warming treats. Free trolley rides
to view the carvings.