Skokie River Nature Preserve
The Skokie River Nature Preserve is Lake Forest Open Lands’ oldest and largest nature preserve, was essentially completed by the mid-1980s although subsequent parcels have been added to the preserve. It consists of a mix of woodlands, savanna, prairie, and sedge meadows typical of the bottomland areas of the Skokie River valley. Several acres have been restored, but large areas consist of virgin prairie of such rarity that the entire holding is now part of the Illinois Nature Preserve system. The preserve was assembled largely through early land donations. Open Lands has also purchased several key parcels threatened by development, the latest being a 4.5-acre addition to the Shaw Prairie in 1999.
Due to the original condition of this preserve, a number of rare birds and plants make it their permanent and part-time home. You can see many of these on the 4.2 miles of public trails available for walking and skiing.
In summer 2009 the delicate and sensitive white lady's slipper orchid (Cypripedium candidum) was rediscovered along a path in the heart of the Skokie River Nature Preserve. This is a threatened species in Illinois. Over 150 years ago this plant thrived in extensive colonies, however widespread collection and loss of habitat has drastically reduced this species in the Chicago region. The native orchid only grows in high quality wet prairie conditions.
In December 2008, the beloved swinging bridge was restored and reopened by Dan Rogers of Rogers Nursey and bridge re-design by Stephen Christy.
The swinging bridge has long been a mainstay of Lake Forest Open Lands and the popular 123-acre Skokie River Nature Preserve. In fact the structure first dates back to 1887 when Howard Van Doren Shaw purchased 50-acres behind Green Bay Road and built the arts and crafts style home that is today's Ragdale. At that time Shaw installed a whimsical concrete bridge over the Skokie River. Later, in the early 1940's when the Skokie River was channelized, a new wooden and swinging bridge was installed. Through numerous improvements and renovations, this bridge has lived on as a special feature for adventurous walkers of the Skokie Preserve.
Access to the Skokie River Nature Preserve is at the west end of Laurel Avenue, west of Green Bay Road. Park at the end of West Laurel Avenue and walk on the bike path across the bridge to the wood-chipped trail on the right.