Map by Lynda Wallis

 

 

 

 

 

Winter 2004

Into the Wild


Prairie, fen, sedge meadow, wetlands, savanna, and a glacial kame — this "family" park with an unusual name consists of varied habitat

Fel-Pro RRR Map
McHenry County, Illinois

Glacial Park, Moraine Hills, or Marengo Ridge; these are names of preserves in McHenry County. But "Fel-Pro RRR"? Though it could be a factory, a railroad, or some kind of subversive political organization, Fel-Pro RRR is actually a park nestled in the most densely populated portion of McHenry County. And even its unusual name has historical richness.

 
DIRECTIONS
 

Fel-Pro RRR is on Crystal Lake Avenue in Cary. From Rte 31, exit east on Crystal Lake Avenue and continue nearly three miles to the park. The parking lot is on the north/left side of the road.

Located in Cary in southeastern McHenry County, Fel-Pro RRR sits beside the Fox River and encompasses a total of 220 acres. The site features prairie, fen, sedge meadow, wetlands, and savanna. Gazing out from the peak of a glacial kame, one can get lost in the beauty of the wetlands that spread out around the small, clear stream meandering through the park. Nancy Williamson, site steward for the 140 wild acres now dedicated as an Illinois Nature Preserve, refers to this section as a "mini Glacial Park," invoking McHenry's 2,806-acre flagship preserve. The eastern portion of the park has been developed for recreation and includes a baseball diamond, swimming pool, volleyball court, basketball court, and two pavilions.

Fel-Pro RRR is a perfect family spot. From the parking lot, a one-mile hard-surface trail leads through the developed area of the park, negotiating gentle rolling hills and large oak trees. A rustic dirt trail then branches off toward a much wilder setting, passing into an oak savanna and over steep glacial hills. A quarter-mile segment over several wood bridges circles the largest pond, which is connected to a smaller pond by a steep spillway and a narrow stream. From there, a half-mile trail leads through the savanna out to a field and the third pond. All trails in the park are groomed for cross-country skiing in the winter.

For the past three years, Nancy Williamson has worked with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and scores of volunteers to control invasive plants and reestablish the property's native ecosystems. Columbine and bottlebrush grass are returning to the site's recovering oak savannas. To the east rises a rare and unusually steep dry gravel hill prairie, home to dropseed, little bluestem, and birdsfoot violet. In the west, a high-quality graminoid fen harbors Ohio goldenrod, swamp thistle, angelica, and fringed gentian. To restore the site's natural communities, volunteers and TNC staff have conducted several controlled burns, but much work remains to be done.

Fel-Pro RRR had a previous life as a private park for the workers and families of the Fel-Pro corporation, an auto-parts manufacturer. Fel-Pro's owners bought the property to provide RRR — or Rest, Relaxation, and Recreation — for their company's 2,800 employees. The company's positive employer-employee relations, fostered in part by company picnics, summer camps, and everyday visits to the property, led Fortune Magazine to rank Fel-Pro the fourth-best place to work in America in 1998.

Fel-Pro's owners sold the company that same year, but they deeded the 220 acres, appraised at $7.5 million, to a collaboration of TNC, McHenry County Conservation District, and Metropolitan Family Services (management of the nature preserve portion is currently being handed over to MCCD). The family owners wanted to keep this area's natural beauty protected from development and to provide educational and recreational opportunities for other families.

For MCCD programs, snow conditions, and additional information, call (815) 338-6223. For information about restoration, call Nancy Williamson at (847) 608-3100, ext. 2051. For pavilion and site reservations, or family and child programs, call Metropolitan Family Services at (847) 658-8212. The park is open year-round from 8 a.m. to sunset.

— David Rigby