Why your access to the heart of Volo Bog is likely to remain closed awhile
While most of the Volo Bog State Natural Area in Ingleside remains open and accessible for public exploration and other activities, its namesake feature is off limits and likely will be for awhile.
"It is like visiting the Grand Canyon and not being able to get near the actual canyon or going to Yellowstone without getting near a geyser," explained Stacy Iwanicki, natural resources coordinator for education at the 1,500 acre complex off Brandenburg Road west of Route 12.
That comparison may be a bit of apples and oranges, but to many of the 90,000 or so annual visitors, it is valid.
About two-thirds of the half-mile long interpretive boardwalk, which takes visitors through various ecosystems and into the "eye" of Volo Bog, has been closed since June and there is not yet even a timeline for its reopening.
"You come to the bog to see the bog and you can't get there," said Greta Taylor, a conservation worker at the site.
The newer floating section of boardwalk is still open, but the stationary wooden one installed in the 1970s is being pulled apart by hydraulic pressure from rising water and has been deemed unsafe.
Structures to control water flow also are deficient. Both are beyond simple repair, according to Greg Kelly, site superintendent for Volo Bog and Moraine Hills State Park along the Fox River near McHenry.
That's a concern because the eye of Volo Bog is one of a kind in Illinois -- a floating mat of sphagnum moss, cattails and sedges surrounding a small lake created thousands of years ago by a melting glacier and ringed by tamarack trees and other state-endangered plants.
It's known as a "quaking" bog because it shakes underfoot and is the only one in the state surrounding open water.
"It's a unique ecosystem," Kelly said. "It's the last one. This is it."
In 1973, the entire site was designated a Registered Natural Landmark by the National Park Service, seen as possessing "exceptional value in illustrating the natural history of the United States."
Besides being a go-to spot for photographers, the bog is considered a valuable outdoor classroom and laboratory for students young and old. About 144 guided school groups visit each year, including Deborah Coolidge's fourth-grade class from Big Hollow Elementary School, which was there Thursday.
"It's not a full experience," she said of the closed boardwalk. "All those different things kids just don't know about -- it's really amazing. It's sad it's not available to us anymore."
Replacing the boardwalk has been on the Illinois Department of Natural Resources' wish list for 20 years but not funded, according to Kelly.
"We were always able to make Band-Aid repairs to keep the boardwalk passable," he said. That's no longer possible and Kelly said at this point he would welcome corporate sponsorship to proceed.
He estimated the cost of replacement at $700,000 to $1 million, in part because of the difficulty of getting materials to the area and the presence of five or more layers of timber walkways dating to the 1920s that have sunk into the bog and lie beneath the surface.
Staff has done an "excellent job of keeping the boardwalk open" until recently but it needs to be replaced, said Rachel Torbert, IDNR's deputy director.
IDNR staff members continue to discuss the project and options for replacement, she added,
"However, the ecosystem which surrounds the boardwalk is very fragile, which means there are many environmental concerns which dictate timing and completion of the project," Torbert said.
Projects at other sites which impact life, safety and health of the public have to be prioritized, she added. Regardless, the agency continues to try and secure funding to replace the boardwalk, she said.