Why Independence Grove Forest Preserve is a recreation destination

Why Independence Grove Forest Preserve is a recreation destination

Independence Grove Forest Preserve in Libertyville, centered around a 129-acre shimmering lake, offers recreational and natural beauty throughout the year.

Independence Grove features an array of trails that are either paved or gravel. Courtesy of Lake County Forest Preserves

The 1,150-acre preserve features about 18 miles of trails that connect to neighboring communities and the Des Plaines River Trail. The paved Overlook Trail and the South Bay Trail loops are plowed during the winter.

"Independence Grove is a premier forest preserve that offers an array of activities," said Angelo Kyle, president of the Lake County Forest Preserves. "Enjoy panoramic views of the lake from amenities including an amphitheater, pavilion and beer garden."

Visitors can rent fishing boats, canoes, kayaks, stand up paddleboards and pedal boats at the marina during spring through early fall. Comfort bikes, quadracycles and adaptive trikes are also available to rent. The marina sells bait, tackle and fishing licenses.

Children enjoy the sensory-rich playground with handicap-adaptable equipment and wide paved pathways.

Millennia Plaza at Independence Grove features a fountain, wooden pergola and gazebo, and a brick walkway tucked along garden beds of native plants. Courtesy of John Konstantaras

Millennia Plaza is a picturesque area with a sculptured fountain, wooden pergola and gazebo, wood and wrought iron benches, winding red brick walkways and garden beds with a variety of native plants.

The garden shows homeowners how to create their own beautiful landscapes using low-maintenance native plants. The amphitheater is the setting for the annual summer concert series that runs from June to August.

Concerts in the Plaza take place at Independence Grove from June through August. Courtesy of Tim Elliott

The Beer Garden at Independence Grove is on the water and features local craft brews and scenic views. The venue is open from early May through late October.

Musky, northern pike, black crappie, largemouth bass, channel catfish, walleye, bluegill and yellow perch can be found in the lake. A mandatory catch-and release fishing program makes it recreational for anglers and beneficial for nature.

When the Forest Preserves purchased this land in 1978, an idea evolved that an old gravel quarry, 3,500 feet across and 75 feet deep, could be recycled and reclaimed. By the late 1980s, it was evident that something bigger could happen here.

"The preserve opened to the public in 2001 and has become one of Lake County's most popular recreation destinations," Kyle said.

Since the walls of the old quarry were straight and steep, shelves were made along the edge to create a safer shoreline for wildlife habitat and deter erosion. Thousands of trees and shrubs were planted.

One of the biggest challenges was creating a habitat for fish out of a sterile lake with no vegetation. Trees, fish cribs and concrete pipes were placed along the lake bottom before the water was allowed to rise. The lake was seeded with water from a nearby healthy lake, which contained the microscopic life needed to start the foundation of a healthy lake food web.

Another highlight at the preserve is the canoe launch to gain access to the Des Plaines River. Visitors can bring their own canoe or kayak to the launch, which is across from the North Bay Pavilion.

Dogs, horses and other pets are not permitted in the lake section of the preserve. Service animals are allowed.

• Kim Mikus is a media and community relations specialist at the Lake County Forest Preserves.

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