As with “No Child Left Inside,” welcome to a new 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 www.fourriver.org.
By Jamie B. Johannsen
Director of Marketing, Winnebago County Forest Preserve District
Deer Run Forest Preserve, owned and managed by the Winnebago County Forest Preserve District, is at 5691 River Road, in Cherry Valley, just 3 miles southeast of Rockford city limits. This preserve is aptly named; deer are often seen here, and its diversity of habitat makes it a prime wildlife viewing spot. Deer Run’s 594 acres contain a segment of the Kishwaukee River, hundreds of acres of restored prairie, floodplain wetlands and ponds, as well as woods.
This former agricultural land began a transformation to savanna prairie in 2004. In summer, Deer Run is lush with beautiful prairie flowers and many nesting birds. The rare and secretive Henslow’s Sparrow breeds here, along with seven other confirmed sparrow species. A total of 13 sparrow species can be seen within the preserve. Other prairie birds include sedge wrens, dickcissels, orchard orioles, bluebirds, Eastern meadowlarks, tree swallows, and red-winged blackbirds. Turkey vultures, wood ducks, great blue herons, red-tailed hawks and sandhill cranes frequently fly over the prairie. The wide-open, flat field ringed by mixed woods feels spacious. Visitors (especially those with binoculars) often can see coyotes, deer, skunks, hawks, osprey hunting or browsing in the distance.
The preserve is bordered by the Kishwaukee River on the west, and the south branch of the Kishwaukee meanders through the southeast portion. One of the highest-quality streams in the state of Illinois, the Kishwaukee provides habitat and food for many aquatic and terrestrial species. The “Kish” also provides great recreational opportunities for fishing, canoeing and kayaking.
The grass trail begins at the parking lot and loops through the preserve. The back section (northwest) is the wetland area and may require waterproof footwear in spring. But a hike back to this lowland area is worth it. The “Blue Hole” on the northern edge is a floodplain oxbow pond frequented by frogs, turtles, dragonflies and herons. Deer Run also offers picnic tables and more than 9 miles of hiking and equestrian trails, which connect with Oak Ridge Forest Preserve to the south. Driving directions, district map and preserve trail maps are available at www.wcfpd.org.
From the June 9-15, 2010 issue