Forest Faves: Maple Grove Forest Preserve
Visitors might come to Maple Grove Forest Preserve in Downers Grove for its glorious display of spring wildflowers or amazing fall colors, without even realizing that it’s also home to one of the county’s greatest examples of a glacial kettle, or giant bowl-shaped depression. It’s this unique feature that makes it a “forest fave” for District naturalist Dave Andrusyk.
Formed 13,000 years ago, the kettle is located near the northwest corner of Maple Grove. Kettles are formed by large chunks of ice that break off melting glaciers. Dust and debris then settle around the ice as it melts, forming the bowl shape. One of Andrusyk’s favorite spots to sit is on a good-sized piece of granite at the bottom of the kettle. “When you are at the bottom of the kettle, you are surrounded by the grand maples and wildflowers,” he said.
Maple Grove’s “best-kept secret,” according to Andrusyk, is that it is one of the oldest forest preserves in DuPage County and the largest remaining remnant of the vast maple forest preserve that became Downers Grove. Because less than 0.5 percent of Illinois natural areas are intact today, Maple Grove is both a rare historic forest and a valuable natural area. The preserve is categorized as a “globally endangered ecosystem” by ecologists. “Although the preserve is small, it packs a large punch in the DuPage County ecosystems,” he said.
Maple Grove has plenty to offer throughout the year in its 82 acres. Multipurpose and interpretive trails wind through the maple forest and there's a long bridge over St. Joseph Creek. Picnic tables, water pumps and portable washrooms are available for visitors. Ground fires are not allowed, but visitors can bring their own grills and use the hot-coal disposal containers on site.
Andrusyk said his favorite times to visit are spring and fall. “Throughout the spring, visitors can marvel at the wide variety of wildflowers that bloom in the preserve,” he said. “From wild geraniums and red trillium to mayapples and jack-in-the-pulpits, these wild blooms will keep any amateur botanist busy.”
In the fall, the many black maple trees mixed with oak, black cherry and walnut put on a spectacular color show for all to enjoy. At the same time, visitors can spot many different species of migrating birds heading south to their warm vacation homes.
Andrusyk said his favorite hike is in the spring to see the many varieties of spring wildflowers. “The preserve itself is great as well anytime for those who want to brush up on their tree identification skills,” he said. “And the picnic area is perfect to relax and enjoy some family time. There is plenty of room for some outdoor games after a trek through the woods.”
Tips for if you go
When you head out, don’t be afraid to venture out onto the foot paths off of the main trails. The preserve is relatively small, so you won’t get lost. Bring along some good tree identification books, a camera and some binoculars.