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Landmarks: Palos Preserves get overdue consideration in ‘greatest venture ever’ in Prepare dinner County


There are many scenic parts within the Palos space Forest Preserves — oak savanna forests the place one can see by means of the timber, moist lowlands leftover from ice age glaciation and ravines eroded over hundreds of years by means of the rolling hilltops of the Valparaiso moraine system.

However a nineteenth century barkeep working an institution not removed from the city of South Mount Forest selected to deal with one thing totally different.

The Purple Gate Tavern was located throughout busy Archer Avenue from a fenced farm subject accessible by means of a painted purple gate. The place was so well-liked it turned an unofficial cease on the Joliet & Chicago Electrical interurban railway within the early 1900s.

The reminiscence of scarlet spot amid a sea of browns and greens has lengthy outlived the gate, farm, tavern and even the railway, although motorists proceed to hurry by alongside Archer Avenue. A number of pulled in Thursday to Purple Gate Woods, the place Becky Collings, a senior useful resource ecologist with the Forest Preserves of Prepare dinner County, supplied a glimpse on the cultural previous of the Palos Preserves.

“Ultimately the tavern was demolished and the Forest Preserves bought this land, however the identify caught,” Collings stated.

Elected officials and others take a tour Thursday, April 25, 2024 at Red Gate Woods in Willowbrook showcasing a massive project underway by the Forest Preserves of Cook County in the Palos Preserves. (Mark Black / Daily Southtown)
Elected officers and others take a tour Thursday, April 25, 2024 at Purple Gate Woods in Willowbrook showcasing an enormous venture underway by the Forest Preserves of Prepare dinner County within the Palos Preserves. (Mark Black / Each day Southtown)

The assemblage of politicians and Forest Preserves workers wore mild jackets on a sunny April 25 for the official launch of a $10 million restoration venture within the Palos Preserves. The trouble to take away invasive shrubs and enhance and restore trails will influence nearly 1,100 acres, largely west of Wolf Highway.

Work started final winter in Purple Gate Woods, and the Forest Preserves individuals wished to indicate off early outcomes. At one level on a brief hike, Troy Showerman, a useful resource venture supervisor, identified how the older timber uniformly leaned to the east, the place undappled daylight as soon as beamed down on a previously deforested hilltop.

It was the location of the previous Palos Worldwide golf course which throughout World Warfare II was acquired by the federal authorities and have become the primary web site of Argonne Nationwide Laboratory.

The tough picket barracks belied the significance of the work being accomplished there as a part of the Manhattan Undertaking, and the world’s first nuclear pile remains buried on the site, encased in concrete.

The Palos Preserves in 2021 garnered one other world plaudit when a portion was declared the world’s largest Urban Night Sky Place by the Worldwide Darkish-Sky Affiliation. On the east finish, Bergman Slough was named a Land and Water Reserve in 2020 by the Illinois Nature Preserves Fee.

The chunk of Palos that’s been focused by the restoration venture contains 1,045 acres which can be uninterrupted by the noise and headlights of motor site visitors, Showerman stated.

“That’s distinctive to us,” he stated. “It’s bounded by roads, however there are not any roads on the within.”

That’s to not say it’s inaccessible. The acreage accommodates 26 miles of trails and is one among solely two within the county preserves system the place individuals can legally use trails for mountain biking in addition to horseback using, mountain climbing and “the rest you need to do on the paths,” Showerman stated.

Troy Showerman, resource project manager for the Forest Preserves of Cook County, speaks April 25 about the scope of a $10 million restoration project underway in the Palos Preserves during a presentation at Red Gate Woods in Willowbrook. (Mark Black / Daily Southtown)
Troy Showerman, useful resource venture supervisor for the Forest Preserves of Prepare dinner County, speaks April 25 concerning the scope of a $10 million restoration venture underway within the Palos Preserves throughout a presentation at Purple Gate Woods in Willowbrook. (Mark Black / Each day Southtown)

These trails join amenities providing a variety of different actions, together with fishing, canoeing and kayaking at Maple Lake, tenting at Camp Bullfrog Lake and the character training and leisure choices at Little Purple Schoolhouse Nature Middle and Sagawau Environmental Studying Middle.

“This can be a very closely used leisure web site, along with its uniqueness from the ecology perspective,” he stated.

On the identical time, the world has been “very evenly managed by us,” Showerman stated, resulting in “an enormous invasive brush downside.”

Officers determined to treatment the state of affairs a few years in the past. A part of that effort concerned cataloging remaining populations of native shrubs, in order that the nice vegetation wouldn’t get ripped out with the invasive European honeysuckle and buckthorn understory.

A few of what they discovered, akin to remnant populations of spicebush, “are fairly uncommon within the forest protect system,” he stated.

Collings stated at roughly 12,000 acres, the Palos Preserves are second in dimension solely to Midewin Nationwide Tallgrass Prairie as protected areas go. However a a lot higher proportion of Palos accommodates remnant pure communities than Midewin, the place a lot of the land was closely used over the past two centuries.

“Arguably, we’re standing in an important pure space in our area of Illinois,” she stated.

Work to clear invasive honeysuckle shrubs from the understory at Red Gate Woods has created conditions where users can see through the trees. It's part of a $10 million restoration project by the Forest Preserves of Cook County in the Palos Preserves.
Work to clear invasive honeysuckle shrubs from the understory at Purple Gate Woods has created circumstances the place customers can see by means of the timber. It’s a part of a $10 million restoration venture by the Forest Preserves of Prepare dinner County within the Palos Preserves. (Mark Black / Each day Southtown)

That’s to not say the land has been untouched. Human habitation stretches again eons. Collings stated the Illinois Archeological Survey found an agate spearhead in one of many Palos Preserves that dates again 10,000 years, and there was a documented settlement of Native Individuals residing close by within the 1600s, “so there have been waves of various individuals residing right here.”

Amongst these waves of individuals had been the residents of South Mount Forest.

“There was a submit workplace, a basic retailer, blacksmith store,” stated Bob Busch, president of the Palos Historic Society. “The township workplaces had been in a tavern on the second story. It most likely would have been included down the best way, besides the Forest Preserves purchased all of it.”

Now a ghost city, South Mount Forest was a cluster of properties and companies alongside Kean Avenue between 96th and 111th streets.

Because the Forest Preserves of Prepare dinner County took an curiosity within the Palos space within the 1910s and 20s, South Mount Forest turned a casualty.

“They purchased ‘em all out they usually all needed to transfer,” Busch stated.

One of many bigger landowners resisted and filed go well with in a case that made all of it the best way to the Illinois Supreme Court docket. Ultimately, the court docket determined towards Patrick Caraher, however just like the previous purple gate down the best way, his identify lives on within the Palos Preserves.

“When the choose determined the case in favor of the county, he granted one among Caraher’s needs that there be a monument there,” Busch stated.

A concrete-covered brick edifice most likely 10-feet excessive was constructed within the Nineteen Twenties the place Kean Avenue empties onto 119th Road in Palos Park, Busch stated. “It regarded like a tombstone. It had Caraher’s identify on it. However no one maintained it.”

By the Sixties, the previous monument was falling aside, “so the street commissioner from Palos Township discovered a giant rock in a ditch someplace, hauled it up there they usually carved Caraher’s identify in it,” he stated.

Whereas Busch indicated the monument substitute may need been carried out “out of spite,” it’s one other vestige of the lengthy intermingling of individuals and nature within the Palos Preserves.

Work to clear invasive honeysuckle shrubs started last winter at Red Gate Woods in Willowbrook as part of a massive restoration project by the Forest Preserves of Cook County in the Palos Preserves, which also will focus on repairing and improving the trail network in the preserves. (Mark Black / Daily Southtown)
Work to clear invasive honeysuckle shrubs began final winter at Purple Gate Woods in Willowbrook as a part of an enormous restoration venture by the Forest Preserves of Prepare dinner County within the Palos Preserves, which additionally will deal with repairing and enhancing the path community within the preserves. (Mark Black / Each day Southtown)

One of the well-liked parts of the preserves is the steps at Swallow Cliff, which ascend a steep moraine that after was residence to well-liked toboggan slides and earlier than that, a ski soar. Busch stated the steep ski soar shortly was deemed to harmful after youths started falling off the construction, and it was changed by picket sliding chutes for toboggan rides. They had been so well-liked that new ones had been put in fabricated from concrete which, in flip, had been deemed harmful and closed within the late Nineties and shortly demolished.

Regardless of that, the steps themselves stay one of many top 10 hiking destinations in Illinois, based on Forest Preserves worker Chris Slattery.

However first time guests exploring the path on the high of the steps “don’t know the way lengthy it’s going to get again, or the place they’re going,” Slattery stated. So a part of the Palos effort contains putting in higher indicators and maps at path heads. They’ve additionally recognized 60 “bother spots” the place extreme erosion makes unpaved trails tough to navigate.

Eileen Figel, interim general superintendent for the Forest Preserves of Cook County speaks April 25, 2024, during a tour of Red Gate Woods in Willow Springs that showcased a restoration project underway in the Palos Preserves. (Mark Black / Daily Southtown)
Eileen Figel, interim basic superintendent for the Forest Preserves of Prepare dinner County, speaks April 25, 2024, throughout a tour of Purple Gate Woods in Willow Springs that showcased a restoration venture underway within the Palos Preserves. (Mark Black / Each day Southtown)

Eileen Figel, the interim basic superintendent for the Forest Preserves of Prepare dinner County, stated it’s their “greatest venture ever.”

Palos is sweet place to boost the connections between ecological range developed over eons and millennia of human use.

However her favourite half is its dimension.

“That is the place in Prepare dinner County the place you most really feel such as you obtained away from the whole lot,” Figel stated. “You’ll be able to’t hear any vehicles proper now. There’s nearly nowhere else within the county the place that occurs. You hear wind. You hear birds. And I like that.”

Landmarks is a weekly column by Paul Eisenberg exploring the individuals, locations and issues which have left an indelible mark on the Southland. He may be reached at [email protected].

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