Glacial moraine featuring 100-foot bluffs above Lake Michigan, wooded ravines, prairie, and dunes
Trail bridge over ravine, excellent lakefront birding
274 acres, 1.3 miles of paved trail, and 0.3 miles of woodchip trail
Behind the Scenes
Construction of a public golf course will redirect excess rain and snowmelt away from the sensitive ravines to lessen erosion
From the entrance at Old Elm Rd and Sheridan Rd in Highland Park, turn left on Leonard Wood Dr., and left on Gilgare Rd. to the parking area
Into the Wild
Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve
Lake County, IL
AN UNEXPECTED SENSE OF HEIGHT strikes visitors who enter Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve in Highland Park, Illinois. From the entrance drive, which leads over the deep Hutchinson Ravine, to the view of beach dunes and Lake Michigan off the majestic bluff, this site offers a unique perspective on 0.75 miles of shoreline, now accessible to the public for the first time in 100 years.
The 274-acre preserve was acquired in parcels by the Lake County Forest Preserves after the U.S. Army closed its base at Fort Sheridan in 1993. For the past several years, work has been underway to restore the site and preserve its natural and human history.
Because it hugs the Lake Michigan shoreline, Fort Sheridan is home to many species not found elsewhere in the region. “The ravines here are unique because the lake waters cool the immediate shoreline in the summer while warming the same area in the winter,” says Ken Klick, a Forest Preserve District restoration ecologist. “The buffering of weather extremes is what allows many northern plants to occur at Fort Sheridan while just a few miles inland they're eliminated because of those extremes.”
Photo: Rob Curtis/The Early Birder
Native huckleberry, Canada mayflower, spreading juniper, and paper birch grow among the oaks and maples that cover the preserve. On a slope down to the lake stand two arborvitae evergreens, thought to be the only wild, native arborvitae in Lake County. Visitors might also find other rare species, such as American dog violet, sea rocket, and buffaloberry here. After a recent controlled burn, the district seeded Hutchinson Ravine with a variety of species, including Jack-in-the-pulpit, bottlebrush grass, and rue anemone.
A great variety of birds, including cerulean warblers, scarlet tanagers, and vireos, migrate through, following the shoreline. A planned viewing area will include interpretive signage about these species.
New trails and a parking area are now open at the preserve. Swimming and boating, however, are not allowed on this section of Lake Michigan.
Two asphalt trails provide 1.3 miles for hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing. An additional 0.3-mile woodchip trail is open to hiking and skiing. The trail also features an expansive bridge over an ecologically sensitive ravine, and connects to the North Shore Bike Path at Sheridan Road.
Several self-guided educational exhibits highlight the unique ecology and history of the site, including a walk-through replica of a red-tailed hawk's nest large enough to accommodate as many as 20 school children. The nest is cradled among the trees overlooking the ravines and features a “hawk's-eye view” through a specially designed viewing station.
Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve is open daily from 6:30 a.m. until sunset. Dogs are welcome on a leash. For more information, call (847) 367-6640 or visit Lake County Forest Preserves online.
— Terry Stephan