Into The Wild: Atwood Park…Walden Pond or the Magic Kingdom?

Kishwaukee River at Atwood Forest Preserve. Photo by Jamie B. Johannsen

As with “No Child Left Inside,” welcome to a series of articles in partnership with Four Rivers Environmental Coalition (FREC) and The Rock River Times. In recognition of the United Nations designation of 2010 as the Year of Biodiversity, the FREC presents this bi-weekly series to help readers discover the amazing array of plants and animals in the rivers, prairies and woodlands “in our own back yard.” FREC is an alliance of 35 member organizations “dedicated to educating and advocating for the plants, animals, natural resources and ecosystems of the Four Rivers Region.” Please visit

By Katie Townsend
Program Manager, Atwood Environmental Center

Walden Pond was a place of solace and reflection for Henry David Thoreau. We moderns need a place to go and live deliberately as well. I never get tired of speaking of my touch stone and then introducing the “spot” to others. The magic of Seth B. Atwood Park tricks me with uncanny regularity. It is like waking up from a dream. I wander the trails for an hour or so before the realization hits me that I was on my way somewhere else. Then, that errand or other “important” duty has to be temporarily forgotten.

Why not follow the urge? My “Walden” has a river that runs right through the middle of it, and, in many places, it is so clear you can see the freshwater mussels on the gravel bottom. Little wonder kayakers and canoeists frequent Larry’s Landing, an accessible launch on the park’s south side.

The Kishwaukee is a great river to share. Osprey, great blue heron, belted kingfisher and two-legged anglers become fishing buddies in this wilder kind of place. Plenty of spots exist to bank fish on both sides of the river and a well-maintained suspension bridge is offered for safe passage.

Old oak, Photo by Jamie B. Johannsen

Whether your preference is upland or lowlands, the landscape does not disappoint. The hillsides have a limestone foundation, and rugged native oak trees hold the ground. Variety is the spice of life, and the flats are occupied by grasslands that were tended by hands of children, as well as volunteers—a people’s prairie at Atwood South.

Truly, the company at the park can be extraordinary. Chickadees call, tease and playfully hop out of reach, but not out of sight. Other bold birds also frequent the area, so prepare to be inspired by raptors both day and night. Free-flying red-tailed hawks and turkey vultures ride the thermals over the meadows or marsh. On a given evening, a lucky visitor can enjoy the random music of hooting barred owl and chorus frogs in combination.

Park in the lot adjacent to Atwood Lodge, and follow the stairs down to view a variety of non-releasable birds of prey kept safe in their mews and easily visible for all to enjoy. Let us not forget the mammals with the opportunity to be involved in the best hide-and-seek games ever to be played.

I have to admit, more often than not, the secretive red fox, American coyote and white-tailed deer win the game. Maybe it is all how you look at it. The visitor to Atwood Park wins, too, if one is willing to be experiential over competitive.

I hope I am tempting some of the citizenry to step out into nature. Take a child along with you, and introduce them to 334 acres of simple pleasures at the Rockford Park District’s second-largest park. Better yet, allow yourselves to be led by one of the children who have attended on-site Atwood Environmental Education programs or Camp Lone Oak. The atmosphere is casual as well as conducive for a walk with your best friend, whether they are human or canine, taking a picture of a sunset over the water, or just getting good and muddy. Then, when the moment seizes you, be quiet and drink in the experience. What an excellent habit! Maybe I will meet those of you who know better than to resist the call of the wild and make Atwood Park your nature destination.

Atwood Park has several points of entry. Walking trails, the Birds of Prey pens and Atwood Lodge can be accessed from the north by Atwood Environmental Education Center parking lot at 2685 New Milford School Road, Rockford. The south gate off Ryberg Road provides entrance for the prairie observation deck, Civilian Conservation Corps picnic shelter, and the kayak canoe landing. Both sides of the park have grills, picnic tables and drinking water available. For more information, call (815) 874-7576.

From the June 2-8, 2010 issue