The new Marquis Oak Ridge Trail at TWI’s Dixon Waterfowl Refuge at Hennepin & Hopper Lakes is now officially open for visitors to explore.
The 2.7-mile crushed-gravel trail, designed for hiking and bicycling, leads from the levee at the north end of the site through rich prairies and wetlands to the newly restored Oak Ridge marsh and savanna complex at the center of the Refuge. Six interpretive signs along the way tell visitors about these habitats, their unique flora and flora, and the Refuge’s restoration history.
A generous $100,000 grant from Marquis Energy, LLC, of Hennepin made the trail’s construction possible. Additional funding from Dr. Scholl Foundation, Dynegy Hennepin Power Station, and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ Illinois Wildlife Preservation Fund has supported completion of the trail amenities and signage over the past two years, along with contributions from individual donors to the Wetlands Initiative.
Completion of the new trail opens the Refuge’s interior to public access for the first time. “The Refuge’s other public trails to date only skirt the eastern boundary of the 3,000-acre site,” said TWI President and Executive Director Paul Botts. “Now people can get out into the middle and have a 360-degree experience of the Refuge without needing a canoe or kayak.”
The Marquis Oak Ridge Trail takes visitors through or close to a wide range of habitats, including wet and mesic prairie, wet meadow, and hemi-marsh, ending with a short loop around Oak Ridge. Hikers or bicyclists who complete the trip will be rewarded with a scenic view over the restored marsh from a low wooden viewing platform situated among the savanna trees. It’s one of the best spots for viewing migrating waterfowl at the Refuge.
“You never know what you’re going to see along the Oak Ridge Trail,” said Gary Sullivan, TWI’s senior ecologist who planned and managed the trail’s installation. “From rare gentian wildflowers to Bald Eagles to leopard frogs and river otters, there’ll be something exciting to discover in every season. Oak Ridge is a unique place with a lot of history, and we look forward to sharing that with people through the new trail.”
TWI has been restoring the 70-acre Oak Ridge area since 2014, and it has now returned to a mosaic of diverse, high-quality wetlands, prairies, and globally rare oak savanna, benefitting imperiled wetland and grassland birds and a diversity of other species. Through a 3-to-1 match challenge grant offered by the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, donations from individual supporters in spring 2016 allowed TWI to complete all needed funding for the restoration. Final restoration steps in fall 2016 will include planting a number of small to medium-size native trees that will sustain a healthy savanna in the decades to come.
From Route 26, visitors can access the trail by turning west onto the levee just south of the Coffee Creek bridge, then parking at the small lot along the levee and following the signs to the trailhead.