We are now approaching arguably the best time of year for hiking outdoors in our area. Sure, each season has something special, but the late summer-early fall period seems to showcase all types of nature. At Woodland Dunes, we look forward to the season’s opportunities to see birds, wildflowers, insects, and mammals in abundance.
There are many excellent trails in our area. Mariner’s Trail of course showcases the Lakefront. The Ice Age Trail gives us opportunities to see more and more interesting areas around the County. Point Beach has more than a dozen miles of wonderful trails, and other places like Schuette Park are also great to view nature.
Woodland Dunes has about seven miles of trails which traverse different habitats. This year’s wet weather has been a challenge and some trails were extremely wet well into July. Willow Trail near our headquarters on Highway 310 was especially wet, but has now dried and is completely open. This trail is frequented by many migrating birds sneaking through the dense foliage or fishing on the West Twin. The Steffen Prairie, only a quarter mile from headquarters, is filled with native wildflowers and grasses, butterflies, and dragonflies this time of year. The Cattail Trail boardwalk, our most popular trail, is being renovated – widened and improved, and will have a floating kayak launch installed where it meets Rahmlow Creek and the West Twin. (Carts will be available to help people more easily get their kayaks to the launch.)
Along Columbus Street, both the Conifer Trail and the Ice Age Trail allow hikers to enjoy hundreds of acres of tranquil wetland forest with interesting old beach ridges and swales. The forest is cool and dark, but openings such as the Kreshek meadow south of 10th Street are havens for butterflies, other interesting insects, and the wildflowers that go with them. One can hike more than two miles on the Ice Age Trail from Columbus Street to Aurora Medical Center, experiencing many different habitat and restoration areas along the way.
Several trails also originate on Goodwin Road in the preserve – at the east end Yellow Birch, Black Cherry, and Trillium trails all begin. Yellow Birch is a lovely boardwalk trail in the forest and is easily walked. Trillium and Black Cherry Trails are more primitive, and are improved only where bridges cross the wettest areas. On these trails one can appreciate remnants of the type of forest that used to cover this entire area for thousands of years.
A special treat is Coneflower Trail, which is seasonally mowed in a prairie planting along Goodwin Road about a quarter mile east of Woodland Drive. There is a parking lot across the road. Each year we wait until ground-nesting grassland birds are finished raising their young before we mow, but that often coincides with the blooming of many wildflowers and flights of butterflies and others. The trail is about 3/4 mile long, and mowing has just been completed. A viewing platform, constructed in memory of Dr. Bob and Lois Bush, overlooks a restored wetland and pond nearby. Although very different than the forested trails, the prairie imparts it’s own special feeling as one walks among the blooms surrounded by the activity of so many insects and other animals.
All the trails at Woodland Dunes are open daily from dawn until dusk at no charge. We ask that dogs only be walked on the Ice Age Trail and that they be kept on a leash at all times so that they don’t disturb native wildlife. We hope that in walking our trails you come to appreciate and respect the nature of our Lakeshore as much as we do.