285 acres, Bliss Woods Nature Preserve in Kane County is
a modest-size natural area, but what it lacks in land mass,
it makes up for with a rich and diverse array of plants,
wildlife, and geological features.
Ochsenschlager, a naturalist with the St. Charles Park District
who has the good fortune to live next door to Bliss Woods,
recognized few of the plants in the woods when she moved
there more than two decades ago. "I didnt
know a lot about nature, but I knew I was drawn to it,"
Ochsenschlager says. So thorough was her education that
she eventually became a steward for the preserve, and later
authored a master plan for it.
more than three-quarters of a century, Bliss Woods has been
a willing teacher to people looking for a glimpse at the
natural environment that existed here before European settlers
arrived. Set aside as a protected area in the 1930s, it
is the second preserve created by Kane County. Although
the name belongs to an early settler, its meaning still
pertains: The preserve is a blissful blend of woods, oak
savanna, and marsh.
to Bliss Woods will find plant species numbering more than
240, with some found nowhere else in the county: narrow-leaved
spleenwort, golden seal, and blue-eyed Mary, which make
for a rich wildflower display in the spring. The preserve
also is a delight for tree lovers, with an impressive collection
that includes red, white (some enormous, 300-year-old specimens),
and bur oaks, hickory, white and blue ash, ironwood, and
one of the largest butternut trees in Illinois, according
to Dick Young, author of Kane County Wild Plants & Natural
Areas. The woods are a haven for animals, including deer,
fox, raccoons, muskrats, woodchucks, mink, and opossum.
The preserves watery environment makes it attractive
to other creatures as well. There is both a salamander pond
and a heron rookery, where several dozen of the great birds
visitors should venture into the area of the preserve that
lies east of Bliss Road, where theyll find one of
the preserves most interesting natural features: the
remnants of a large esker, a winding knoll of gravel deposited
by an underground glacial river. Known as the Kaneville
Esker, most of it was destroyed by gravel mining. The steep
northern and southern slopes are covered with woods and
an open floodplain where sawtooth sage grows, one of the
only places in the Chicago region where it is found in the
wild. The topography of the preserve also includes several
semi-conical kames and an outwash plain bisected by Blackberry
drive through the area bears witness to the pressures of
residential and commercial development, and Bliss Woods
provides something of a buffer to the continuing loss of
open space. The Forest Preserve District recently added
a new 19-acre parcel of marshland directly north that it
obtained as part of the areas flood control efforts.
Preserve planners are trying to link as much open land as
possible to avoid creating isolated islands of habitat that
compromise plant and animal life.
preserves history is deeply intertwined with the earliest
settlement of the area. Today it has a campground, picnic,
and recreation areas, and for more than a century it traditionally
has served as a gathering place for the nearby community
of Sugar Grove. With flat, open prairie stretching out beyond
it, its easy to see what drew people there. The community
takes its name from the grove of sugar maples that attracted
Potawatomi Indians who called this wooded area "Sin
qua sip" or Sugar Grove. Early settlers were also drawn
to the maples sugar-making capacities. According to
Ochsenschlager, early land records show that settlers who
lived on the prairie also owned wood lots in the groves
where they could chop timber. The community held Independence
Day celebrations there as early as 1843. People came for
picnics, to pick violets, and to relax and enjoy the sounds
and sights of nature. They still do.
Woods Forest Preserve is located in Sugar Grove, 40
miles west of Chicago. Take I-290 west to I-88. Continue
past Aurora to the exit for Rte. 56. Follow it to
the juncture with Rte. 47. Go north on Rte. 47 for
two miles to Bliss Rd. and turn right; follow it half
a mile to the forest preserves main entrance.
Parking is available. For more information call Bliss
Woods at (630) 466-4182 or the Forest Preserve District
of Kane County at (630) 232-5980.