Ray Lake in Lake County features panoramic views, history
By Sue Hawkins
Public Affairs Manager, Lake County Forest Preserves
Activities and amenities at Ray LakeBiking
This column by Public Affairs Manager Sue Hawkins is reprinted from the current issue of "Horizons," the quarterly publication of the Lake County Forest Preserves.
Of the 65 properties owned and managed by the Lake County Forest Preserves, Ray Lake in Wauconda ranks sixth in terms of size.
It took 12 separate land acquisitions to grow Ray Lake to its current 1,039 acres. The preserve got its start in 1992 with a small 7-acre parcel. It got its name in 1999 when the Lake County Forest Preserves purchased 401 acres from the Ray family.
Ten additional land buys followed between 2001 and 2016, one of which was the adjoining 338-acre Cuneo family property. Acquisition of that property was funded in part by a $1 million grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation.
Ray Lake visitors can hike, ride bikes or horses, and cross-country ski on a 2.3-mile gravel trail that loops around wetlands and open prairies. The trail also has three boardwalks and a scenic overlook.
The nearest horse trailer parking lot is at adjacent Lakewood Forest Preserve in Wauconda, with access to Ray Lake via the Fort Hill Trail. A trail tunnel at Gilmer Road offers Fort Hill Trail users a safe connection between Lakewood and Ray Lake.
Dogs are welcome at Ray Lake and should be kept leashed and on trails at all times. The nearest dog park for off-leash fun is at Lakewood.
Once known as Ray Lake Farm, Kaye and Edward Ray were the first to acquire land here in 1958 for breeding and raising purebred Black Angus beef cattle.
Breeding cattle was a labor of love for the Ray family. They wanted to improve the breed for the public and held annual auctions with breeders flying in from across the nation to enjoy this social gathering and auction.
"After the passing of my father in 1965, the farm operations continued. In 1967, my mother purchased the purebred Angus cattle from Dwight D. Eisenhower's farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. By 1968, we had 460 head of cattle," said daughter Raine Ray. "And by 1976, the last of our herd was sold."
Eventually the family sold off parts of the farm and leased the remaining acreage until 1999 when the Lake County Forest Preserves bought the property. As a symbol of the land's former use, the original Ray Lake Farm Black Angus bull statue remains atop a stone tower to greet visitors as they enter.
The natural scene
Ray Lake is an important cornerstone of a larger ecological complex of natural communities, which combine to create a habitat conservation area for several threatened and endangered plants and animals.
Within Ray Lake are three wetlands, woodlands with predominantly bur oak, hickory and cherry trees, and sprawling grasslands enjoyed by a variety of bird species. Two peninsulas separate two large wetlands, and a hilly area along the northeast side of the preserve offers scenic views of all three wetlands. The entrance and parking lot are located on Erhart Road between Gilmer and Fremont Center Road.
• Kim Mikus is a communications specialist for the Lake County Forest Preserves. She supplies 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.