Flooded fields in March 2012 at the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.
Last year on St. Patrick’s Day, Dan and I drove out to near Joliet, IL to visit Midewin for the first time. This hidden gem of a reserve used to be the “Joliet Arsenal” during WWII. It’s now 19,000 acres of “tallgrass prairie” mostly set out in a grid system, which means you walk on roads and paths either in a square or diagonal. We were mostly alone during a March heat wave (that ended with us running to the car before a thunderstorm swept over us). We encountered lots of birds, a few small garter snakes, and this flooded part of the road and a field where a beaver had made a rather splendid dam. Dan ended up heaving me over his shoulder, fireman style, and carrying me over this muddy road.
What struck me at Midewin was just how unknown it is. We talked with some folks in Joliet that morning who’d lived there for decades who’d never even heard of the place. Granted, it is definitely an area “under construction” and was only founded in 1996, which, in the grand scheme of things, isn’t very long for a national forest. Still it’s the “the largest open space in the Chicago metropolitan area and northeastern Illinois” and only a few miles away from Joliet, and an hour’s drive from Chicago on the weekend.