Explore a plethora of plants, wildlife along the trails at Waukegan's Lyons Woods
By Kim Mikus
Lake County Forest Preserves
Lyons Woods is a scenic, 345-acre forest preserve in Waukegan that includes a contrasting mix of terrain ideal for trail enthusiasts. The preserve has 2.5 miles of hiking, biking and cross-country skiing trails that connect to other local and regional trails.
The natural scene
Prairies, savannas, woodlands and wetlands offer an impressive array of habitat for birds, wildlife and plants. In the prairie, you'll find native plants such as prairie dropseed, big bluestem, goldenrod and smooth rose.
Five state endangered species take refuge here -- one is so rare its existence in the nation is threatened. Lake County Forest Preserve ecologists and volunteers give special attention to these species, but also work hard to protect and restore the preserve's many other habitats.
Forest preserve staff and volunteers have planted more than 1,000 native trees and shrubs here. Several techniques are used to keep nonnative species at bay, including controlled burns and selective clearing.
"The woods, sitting atop the bluff lands of Lake Michigan, contain large stands of white, bur and black oaks," said Jim Anderson, director of natural resources at the Lake County Forest Preserves. "The habitat diversity here is magnificent," he said.
Lyons Woods is a birder's paradise and part of the Lake Michigan flyway. Migrants that pass through during spring and fall migration include northern goshawk, townsend's solitaire, and white-winged crossbill. It also has one of the highest diversities of breeding warblers of any natural area in Lake County.
An observation deck makes it easy to view the variety of bird species and other wildlife found at the preserve.
In winter, the evergreen grove by the parking lot often shelters several birds not normally seen this far south, such as the long-eared owl. Once the site of a tree nursery, the evergreens are not native to this area.
Lyons Woods is named after the Lyon family of Waukegan. Isaac Reed Lyon moved here from Massachusetts in 1843. He owned a grocery and dry goods store in Waukegan, and served as an alderman and township supervisor.
Philip Blanchard was another notable landowner. Born in New York in 1804, he moved to the area when he was 33 and eventually became a Warren Township judge.
During the Civil War, Blanchard is rumored to have assisted enslaved people in gaining their freedom via the Underground Railroad. In 1868, Blanchard donated a portion of his land for a schoolhouse, which stood at the corner of Sheridan and Blanchard roads and operated until circa 1925.
Other early landowners include Alson Smith Sherman, who was mayor of Chicago in 1844, and Asiel Blodgett, who was a captain in the Civil War and later mayor of Waukegan. In 1940, George Pavlik acquired land at the preserve's southeast corner and established the tree nursery that gave rise to the evergreen grove now seen near the parking lot.
This land was acquired as a forest preserve in parcels between 1976 and 1986. Trails and parking opened in 1996. The entrance is on Blanchard Road, just west of Sheridan Road and south of York House Road.
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Lyons Woods Forest Preserve
Address: 10200 Blanchard Road, Waukegan
Hours: 6:30 a.m. to sunset daily
Size: 345 acres
Activities: Biking, hiking, cross-country skiing
Amenities: Picnic tables, drinking water, public parking, toilets, overlook
• Kim Mikus is a communications specialist for the Lake County Forest Preserves. She writes a bimonthly column about various aspects of the preserves. Contact her with ideas or questions at kmikuscroke@LCFPD.org. Connect with the Lake County Forest Preserves on social media @LCFPD.