Into the Wild
Kane County, IL
WHERE FORMULA ONE RACECARS once kept a blistering pace, visitors now set their own through the Greater Raceway Woods Ecosystem, a roughly 300-acre preserve in Carpentersville, Illinois, in far northeastern Kane County.
Just off Huntley Road, Raceway beckons people to enter terrain draped with the reds, yellows, and oranges of fall. But visitors come throughout the year to use the park’s well-marked trails and explore the unusually hilly terrain (at least by Kane County standards), according to June Keibler, who has advocated for the preservation of Raceway Woods for 20 years. Some walk the 3.5-mile racetrack, which is now used for nature trails.
“It’s beautiful here, a suburban wilderness,” said Keibler. “This is a rare place for people looking for an escape and for folks who want an appreciation of our native landscape.”
Historically, Raceway was a diverse ecosystem of oak savannas, mesic woodlands, and prairies. Settlers began plowing the land in the 1830s. Meadowdale International Raceway replaced the farms in the late 1950s, and for about a decade, thousands watched racing greats barrel through the course, according to Jack Redmer, a raceway enthusiast who has helped develop and maintain many of the trails here. The Raceway closed in 1969.
The area was dormant for years, but rumors of development in the 1980s spurred Keibler, current Dundee Township Supervisor Susan Harney, and others to begin advocating for its preservation and restoration. Over the next decade, Dundee Township, the Dundee Township Park District, and the Forest Preserve District of Kane County raised money to buy land and help restore the preserve.
Old-field weeds and brush have dominated much of the former racetrack grounds and the rest of the park, but a decade or more of hard work by agency staff, volunteers, scouts, and students has reaped rewards. Clearing buckthorn and other invasive species at the north end has opened up a hilly section filled with oaks and hickories. Visitors can soak in the scenery beside the ripple of a clear, seep-fed brook, part of Shaw Creek.
In the west of Raceway Woods, restoration has opened up Snuffy’s Prairie, a diverse, re-created ten-acre dry gravel prairie that in the fall blooms violet with New England and sky-blue asters, and yellow with showy and stiff goldenrods.
The reclaimed landscape has made Raceway Woods a fine place for birding. Bluebirds, song sparrows, wood thrushes, orioles, scarlet tanagers, great crested flycatchers, woodcocks, and several varieties of hawks and owls have become regular denizens. For the first time in decades, the northern bobwhites have begun to nest. “This is truly exciting,”says Redmer. “We must be doing something right to be bringing them back.”
The various landowning agencies are hosting workdays all fall and winter. To attend regular workdays on the second Saturday of each month except December, call (847) 551-4310. To attend the October 21 workday, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. To join a New Year’s Day workday potluck, call (847) 428-5594.
— Deborah Kadin