Prairies, wetlands, and oak woods mingle throughout rolling hills
Migratory birds passing through wetland areas, undulating terrain for skiing and snowshoeing
602 acres, 14 miles of trail, 2 fishing ponds
Behind the Scenes
Habitat restoration volunteers meet at the preserve’s parking lot at 1 p.m. on the third Saturday of every month, year round
Take I-90 to Randall Rd exit near Elgin, drive south on Randall, turn right/west on Big Timber Rd, left/south on Coombs Rd. Preserve is on left.
Into the Wild
Burnidge Forest Preserve
Photo: Ed Reschke
Tucked into the rapidly developing areas of Kane County around Elgin, Illinois, the 602 acres of Burnidge Forest Preserve bear little resemblance to the farms and nurseries here just a few decades ago. The Forest Preserve District listed Burnidge as having “the most potential for habitat restoration with outdoor activities” in Kane County, and they have already made tremendous progress. Today, swaths of native prairie grasses and flowers stretch across the landscape in warmer months, with patches of oak and hickory woods tucked in among the preserve’s southern hills.
Glaciers helped to create a rolling landscape ideal for exploring. Wintertime visitors often view the park’s 14 miles of trails from cross-country skis, snowshoes, or even horseback. “January is a good time to come because you can see lots of tracks,” says Mary Alice Masonick, co-steward at Burnidge with Gary Swick. A coat of snow on a calm day reveals the whereabouts of many of the park’s denizens, including coyote, foxes, and rabbits.
For Masonick, the preserve’s charm is in its variety: oak and hickory forests, wetlands, and prairies all in one place. From the entrance to the park, trails lead away to the north into stretches of prairie, where during the warmer months native plants such as prairie dock, compass plant, cup plant, rosinweed, tall coreopsis, and yellow coneflower reside.
To the south of the parking lot, connecting trails weave through a former tree nursery, oak and hickory forests, the Lily marsh area, and old farm fields. In the mid-1990s, Kane County rerouted an entrance road to the preserve to restore a wetland that except in drought years is a shallow lake. Today, it is home to many migrating birds, including sandhill cranes, yellow-headed blackbirds, and osprey. In the wintertime, cardinals, as well as red-bellied and downy woodpeckers, flit in and out of the trees. American woodcocks mate here in early spring, sometimes before the snow has completely melted.
Photo: Mary Alice Masonick
Thanks to efforts by both the Forest Preserve District and volunteers, the woodland’s underbrush has been mostly cleared of invasive plants such as buckthorn and honeysuckle, making it easier for young oaks and hickories to grow. “It’s not easy to eradicate these invasives,” admits Masonick. “What we’re trying to do is work on them on a small scale.” The district and volunteers have collected seeds of native plants to spread in new spots at Burnidge and other Kane County preserves.
Two ponds in the northeast section of the park, near the Paul Wolff campground, offer ice fishing in winter. In warmer temperatures, visitors can camp at the park’s two campsites. One is a primitive tent campground; the other has 48 hookup sites for trailers. Call (630) 444-1200 for more information — no reservations. But for Masonick’s husband, Joe, a volunteer at the preserve, winter is best — he calls Burnidge “the best cross-country ski area in northern Illinois.” Go see for yourself.
— Allison Knab