By TRACY MOSS
www.ccfpd.org • 586-3360
The Champaign County Forest Preserve District added a fifth forest preserve in 2008 to its more than 3,500 acres of natural landscape. Here´s a roundup of what the county preserves feature.
Homer Lake Forest Preserve
An 800-acre preserve about 15 miles east-southeast of C-U features sledding and cross-country skiing in winter and fishing and boating in the warmer months. Park has many hiking trails, bird-watching and nature study areas and picnic spots, and an Environmental Education Center with displays and hands-on activities for all ages.
Directions: From Champaign-Urbana, take I-74 to Ogden exit; go south 2 miles on Illinois 49 and follow the signs (2573 S. Homer Lake Road, Homer).
Lake of the Woods Forest Preserve
A 900-acre recreational site along the Sangamon River, this preserve offers fishing, boating, hiking, biking, golfing and picnicking in the warmer months and sledding and cross-country skiing in the winter months.
Golf at the Hartwell C. Howard Lake of the Woods Golf Course, learn about history at the Early American Museum and enjoy beautiful gardens at the Mabery Gelvin Botanical Garden with a 100-foot tower with bell carillon and a 3.3-mile bicycle/pedestrian path.
A designated Looking for Lincoln site, the Early American Museum boasts an extensive collection that illustrates 19th- and 20th-century life in East Central Illinois. Two floors of exhibits present architecture, agriculture, trades and occupations, decorative arts and childhood and domestic life of the time. Children have many hands-on opportunities, and educational programs for all ages are offered throughout the year.
South of the museum are the Mabery D. Gelvin Botanical Garden and the Miriam Davies Enabling Garden, an award-winning, barrier-free garden that provides a place for physically, mentally and emotionally challenged people to experience the rewards and pleasures of gardening.
Hartwell C. Howard Lake of the Woods Golf Course is one of two downstate courses certified as an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary. The course has an 18-hole regulation course and a nine-hole par 3 course, as well as a practice range. Lessons, tournaments and family golf activities are offered throughout the season.
Near the Hi-Tower Bell Carillon is a play area.
Directions: 10 miles west of Champaign-Urbana on Interstate 74, Exit 174 or 172 (109 S. Lake of the Woods Road, Mahomet).
Middle Fork River Forest Preserve
In northeast Champaign County, this preserve contains 1,600 acres with reforestation projects, marsh reclamation and prairie restoration projects to restore habitat typical of presettlement periods. Middle Fork offers the 65-site Harry L. Swartz Campground, a swimming beach and the 130-acre Waterfowl Management Area. There are hiking trails, fishing ponds, a play area and many locations for picnicking.
Directions: From Rantoul, take U.S. 136 east for 12 miles and then north on County Road 2700 E for 5 miles (3433 County Road 2700 E, Penfield).
River Bend Forest Preserve
This 275-acre preserve near Mahomet borders 2.5 miles of the Sangamon and contains two lakes totaling about 130 acres. Also at River Bend is a 1.2-mile multipurpose trail and a 1.8-mile nature trail. River Bend offers fishing, hiking and picnicking. Because of the pristine water conditions, specific boating restrictions are in place.
Directions: From Champaign-Urbana, take I-72 west to the Illinois 47 exit; head north on Illinois 47 for 3.5 miles; go west on Mid-America Road 1.5 miles (1602 Mid-America Road, Mahomet).
Sangamon River Forest Preserve
The Champaign County Forest Preserve District purchased the 160-acre site, the district´s newest feature, from Ron and Karen Cook in early 2008 after receiving two grants totaling more than $1 million from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The preserve is undergoing minimal development and opened to the public last year as a low-impact activity area.
The main activities are hiking, fishing and birding.
Directions: The preserve is 2 miles south of Fisher at the intersection of 2797 County Road 600 E, known as Old Amvets Road.