Blackwell Forest Preserve

sky and trees


I had the pleasure of taking my usual walk with a new friend on my birthday this year. One block down the road, we turned onto my usual path into Blackwell Forest Preserve, through what we still call The Cenacle (though the former retreat was taken over by the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County more than a decade ago), and my new friend stopped in his tracks and took a deep breath and said, "Wow."

It's funny how easy it is to take the beauty around you for granted when it's just your daily walk. But in truth, as you turn into this preserve via this particular trail, which overlooks a small oak savanna and the DuPage river, it truly is breathtaking. And that's true in every season.

Forest with streamThe 1,366-acre Blackwell Forest Preserve in Warrenville, Ill., is one of the most popular forest preserves in DuPage County, offering fishing, camping, an archery range, picnic shelters, a hugely popular off-leash dog area and miles of trails that traverse a fascinating range of ecosystems, from river and wetlands to vernal ponds, prairie, oak savanna and more.

The Cenacle Trail leads into Blackwell proper, and I've left thousands of footprints on those paths. But the less-traveled McKee Marsh is what I would consider my one true love and my home trail. I've been visiting the marsh at least once a week (usually more) for more than 10 years. It was at McKee Marsh that I really learned birdwatching. Where I discovered that the Eastern Bluebird can be seen all winter long. (No lie. On the coldest days, you might find a dozen bluebirds holed up in a nesting box. And I've seen male bluebirds singing atop trees on clear sunny crisp days from November through April.) I've been entertained in June by the antics of the Bobolinks, chased in July by angry Tree Swallows, and amused in October by flocks of Cedar Waxwings.

Along these trails, on foot, bike or (when there's enough snow) cross-country skis, I've racked up an impressive bird count, learned the names of native grasses and wildflowers, met other regulars who I've come to consider friends, seen coyotes, mink, white-tailed deer, raccoons, skunks, leopard frogs, snapping turtles, painted turtles and a long et cetera of flora and fauna. I've come to deeply appreciate this place that I call home.

This year, my gratitude for the place feels particularly poignant, as we contemplate the coming season and the likelihood that we won't have many indoor places to go. So expect to find me, in all kinds of weather, plodding along and occasionally distracted by a view, an unexpected critter, or my favorite bur oak.

I hope you have somewhere that provides the same kind of respite, and inspires a little awe when you need it. RM

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