Long Grove's Buffalo Creek Forest Preserve recently saw improvements valued at $9.6M

Long Grove's Buffalo Creek Forest Preserve recently saw improvements valued at $9.6M

  • Buffalo Creek Forest Preserve in Long Grove is 408 acres and offers 5.5 miles of gravel trails for waking, biking and cross-country skiing.

    Buffalo Creek Forest Preserve in Long Grove is 408 acres and offers 5.5 miles of gravel trails for waking, biking and cross-country skiing. Courtesy of Lake County Forest Preserves

 
 
Posted2/11/2021 6:00 AM

Set amid bustling suburbs, Buffalo Creek Forest Preserve in Long Grove is an emerald island offering a quiet place to relax and recreate with nature.

This expansive, 408-acre preserve offers 5.5 miles of gravel trails for walking, biking and cross-country skiing. The trails run through open areas within the preserve, crossing several creeks, skirting the reservoir and traversing restored prairie.

 

Fishing is allowed in the reservoir, which plays a major role in area flood control. Compared to other preserves in Lake County, Buffalo Creek has the highest number of people living within a 10-minute drive of its entrance: nearly 139,000.

Restoration efforts at Buffalo Creek Forest Preserve included 19 acres of new wetland, 60 acres of new prairie and savanna, 1,000 native trees and shrubs, and a massive expansion of the reservoir.
Restoration efforts at Buffalo Creek Forest Preserve included 19 acres of new wetland, 60 acres of new prairie and savanna, 1,000 native trees and shrubs, and a massive expansion of the reservoir. - Courtesy of Egon Schein

The preserve is a popular nature destination for outdoor recreation. Visitors are encouraged to continue safe social distancing rules by maintaining 6 feet of separation between people or family groups and following other CDC recommended COVID-19 prevention strategies.

When arriving, if the parking lot is full, it's suggested that preserve users utilize the interactive trail map to find another nearby preserve.

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The Lake County Forest Preserves acquired land here between 1978 and 1998. Schaeffer Road divides the preserve; land on the east was obtained primarily for floodwater detention and land on the west for preservation of open space.

Red-tailed hawks can be spotted at Buffalo Creek Forest Preserve.
Red-tailed hawks can be spotted at Buffalo Creek Forest Preserve. - Courtesy of Brian Plunkett

Depending on seasonal rainfall, changes occur regularly in the appearance of the preserve's dam, reservoir and sprawling creeks. The prairie is a favorite nesting spot for grassland birds, including bobolinks and eastern meadowlarks.

Public access and restoration projects have been ongoing since the 1980s. The most recent improvements are the addition of 1.7 miles of trails, seven new boardwalks, two scenic overlooks, and 30 additional parking spaces. An existing 0.5-mile trail segment in a flood-prone area was relocated to higher ground.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Restoration efforts at Buffalo Creek included 19 acres of new wetland, 60 acres of new prairie and savanna, 1,000 native trees and shrubs, and a massive expansion of the reservoir.

Restoration efforts have been ongoing since the 1980s. The most recent improvements include two scenic overlooks.
Restoration efforts have been ongoing since the 1980s. The most recent improvements include two scenic overlooks. - Courtesy of the Lake County Forest Preserves

"Valued at $9.6 million, these improvements were completed at no cost to the forest preserves, thanks to an intergovernmental agreement with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago," said Angelo Kyle, president of the Lake County Forest Preserves.

"We've completed several flood management, wetland mitigation and recreational trail projects with varying organizations and jurisdictions. A recent collaboration with the Lake County Department of Transportation occurred in the western 62 acres of the preserve," said Michael Haug, landscape architect for the Lake County Forest Preserves.

A wetland mitigation bank was created by returning former farm fields to a natural condition through the removal of drain tiles and the rehydration of wetlands that once occurred here.

"In designing the expansion of the reservoir, it was important to us that it have the look of a natural body of water and blend with the land," Haug said.

Seven new boardwalks are part of recent restoration and public access projects at Buffalo Creek Forest Preserve.
Seven new boardwalks are part of recent restoration and public access projects at Buffalo Creek Forest Preserve. - Courtesy of the Lake County Forest Preserves

The Lake County Forest Preserves is currently collaborating with the Illinois Department of Transportation and the village of Arlington Heights to complete a pedestrian crosswalk at Wilke Road for safe access across Lake-Cook Road to trails at Buffalo Creek, further expanding connections to this gem of a preserve.

"We have had success partnering with regional and federal agencies to help fund our larger regional trail and restoration projects through grant programs," Executive Director Alex Ty Kovach said.

"Forming partnerships to create large adjoining open spaces and to improve public access and trail connections are part of our agency's 100-Year Vision and Strategic Plan."

• 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.

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Buffalo Creek Forest Preserve

Address: 18163 W. Checker Road, Long Grove

Location: The entrance is on Checker Road, just west of Arlington Heights Road. Trail access for pedestrians and bicyclists is also available along Arlington Heights Road, Checker Road and Schaeffer Road.

Activities: Biking, fishing, hiking, cross-country skiing, overlooks

Amenities: Public parking, toilets, picnic tables

Hours: 6:30 a.m. to sunset daily

• • •

History of Buffalo Creek Forest Preserve

Prior to settlement, the land here supported tallgrass prairies and small wetlands. Farmers moved into the area in the mid-to-late 1830s and drained the marshlands for expanded acreage.

Most of Buffalo Creek was previously owned by the Popp family, who ran a dairy farm before converting to grain crops such as soybeans, wheat and corn.

A German immigrant from Munich, John Popp (1832-1922) arrived in the U.S. in 1851 and settled in Wheeling. In 1854, he married Margaretha Weidner (1832-1910). The couple had nine children.

The eldest son, George Popp (1861-1951), took over the farm operation. George, and his family after him, farmed the land continuously until 1979.

The Popp family was proud of their farm and worked the land with industry and spirit. A plaque set in a boulder at the preserve says, "In the future, as this land serves the public by providing flood control and outdoor recreation, it will stand as a monument to the patriotism, industry and spirit of the Popp family."

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