Hidden gem forest preserve near Antioch ready for public debut
A breathtaking landscape known to few in Lake County will be opened Friday to public access.
Just as fall colors begin to emerge, the official debut of Ethel's Woods Forest Preserve on Route 45 near Antioch will introduce visitors to long-hidden panoramic views.
"You don't even know you're in a suburban area," said Randy Seebach, director of planning and land preservation for the Lake County Forest Preserve District.
Amenities include an entrance drive from Miller Road, 25-acre parking lot and 1.5-mile looped trail with four scenic overlooks. One features a particularly scenic long view of the former lake contour and the restored North Mill Creek.
"You'll be able to see the old edge of the water. You'll see the new meandering stream below you -- you'll know (the spot) when you see it," Seebach added.
The district acquired the 467 acres east of Route 45 and south of Route 173 in 2001. Named for Ethel Untermyer, who led the campaign in 1958 to establish the forest preserve district, it has been a preserve in name only with no defined public access. A tree line visible in the distance across a farm field east of Route 45 for many years has given no hint of the scenery beyond.
That scenery included the Z-shaped Rasmussen Lake, which was created about 60 years ago and over time came to have a Northwoods feel. But the lake was among the lowest in water quality in Lake County and its banks were severely eroded.
After determining it wouldn't be feasible to make the lake accessible for public recreational use, forest preserve officials pursued a novel alternative: drain the 53-acre lake, breach the dams and restore the original, meandering path of North Mill Creek.
The complex project, estimated at about $6.1 million, was done in stages beginning in 2014. The district received a $1 million state clean water grant for the restoration, which is nearly complete. Vegetation to improve the surrounding wetlands and the biodiversity of the stream is being fine-tuned and improved.
Native vegetation takes seven or so years to mature, so the views are "only going to get better and better," Seebach said.
Public access was required as part of a grant the district received toward the purchase of Ethel's Woods. But that work was granted lengthy extensions to allow the creek restoration and avoid companion projects from interfering.
The forest board in February 2018 awarded an $824,522 contract for the access work.
"We had to make sure the two projects worked together," Seebach said of the cooperation between the district's planning and natural resources departments. The long lost landscape includes 170 acres of century-old bur and white oak, shagbark hickory and black walnut trees.
Ethel's Woods is located across Route 45 from the Raven Glen Forest Preserve.
A separate, $4 million project planned to start late next year will feature a 145-foot-long tunnel -- which would be the district's longest -- beneath Route 45 just north of Miller Road.
The project also will include a trail connection to allow walkers, bikers and equestrians to move between the two preserves.