Kankakee Sands Preserve opens

December 14, 2017 GMT

The newly completed public access off Illinois Route 113 to the Forest Preserve District of Will County’s Kankakee Sands Preserve opened Saturday.

The improvements include a paved entrance and parking lot, an 80-person picnic pavilion, a 2.5-mile crushed limestone trail, latrines and other amenities.

The preserve is off Illinois 113 northwest of Custer Park, with the entrance about midway between River Road and Essex Road.

The trail will be open to hiking year-round and to snow shoeing and cross-country skiing in winter months, said FPD spokesperson Cindy Cain. Dogs are allowed but must be leashed.

The preserve includes 555 acres purchased in 1999, with additions purchased in 2012.

“We’re excited to offer this new access area at Kankakee Sands Preserve,” FPD President Suzanne Hart said Saturday. “I’m sure visitors will enjoy the trail and other amenities along with watching the landscape change and evolve as we continue with habitat restoration at the site.”

The preserve protects savanna and wetland habitat. The crescent-shaped sand dunes located in the preserve are relics from a time 15,000 years ago when the area was the shoreline of glacial Lake Wauponsee.

“This much anticipated preserve will provide additional recreational opportunities for southern Will County families,” said commissioner Don Gould, a county board member who represents the area along with commissioner Deb Militello.

Kankakee Sands also is the site of a multi-year restoration project that includes drainage improvements, invasive species removal and the planting of specialized seeds that will replenish and expand native plant stock at the site.

The preserve is part of the Kankakee Sands preservation system, which totals 1,200 acres and three sites along Route 113 east of Braidwood.

Sand Ridge

Across Route 113 from Kankakee Sands is the Sand Ridge Savanna Nature Preserve, which protects areas of forest, prairie, savanna and wetland.

Unusual features of the site are its sand dunes and savanna. It is home to unusual plants, including the state-endangered tubercled orchid and shore St. John’s wort. It also is home to a variety of butterflies, including the black dash skipper and two-spot skipper.

Braidwood Dunes

East of Essex Road and on the south side of Illinois Route 113 is the Braidwood Dunes and Savanna Nature Preserve — another 315 aces of the Kankakee Sands Preserve.

Acquired between 1980-97, a total of 310 acres of the site has been dedicated as an Illinois Nature Preserve in stages in 1981, 1983 and 2001. That provides permanent protection for the natural resources at the diverse preserve, including prairie, savanna and wetland.

It is home to more than 30 bird species and amphibians and reptiles such as the tiger salamander and the six-lined racerunner. Plants include rubberized orchid, huckleberries and prickly pear cactus.

Because of the sensitivity of the site’s natural resources, dogs are not allowed.

It features a 0.41-mile natural-surface trail suitable for hiking and running.

Evans-Judge Preserve

Also in the neighborhood is the Evans-Judge Preserve on the Kankakee River on the east side of Custer Park, with access and parking off Illinois 113.

It includes a diversity of habitats — forest, savanna and wetlands and access to the river for fishing. It has 1.74 miles of natural surface trail for hiking, running, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

Wauponsee trail

Custer Park also is the southern access to the Wauponsee Glacial Trail, which stretches 22 miles across former railroad right-of-way to Manhattan and Joliet, where it connects with other extensive hiking and biking trails.