Old-Growth Forests in Illinois

Last week I spoke to a group of outdoor enthusiasts at the Wood Dale Public Library, west of Chicago, about protecting and restoring the urban forests of northern Illinois. I was asked an excellent question. Are there old-growth forests in Illinois, and if so, where are they? It turns out that there are four forests with old growth, and here they are:

1. Shawnee National Forest–The Garden of the Gods Wilderness Area has approximately 3,300 acres of old growth, consisting primarily of post oaks and blackjack oaks. This wilderness area was created in 1990. Several trails, including an Interpretive Trail and the River-to-River Trail, lead through the wilderness. For the specific locations of old growth, I would ask at one of the offices of the U.S. Forest Service.

2. The Cache River Natural Area–Also in southern Illinois, this natural area consists of the northernmost reach of cypress swamps, which we associate primarily with the South. The area has 1,600 acres of old-growth cypress trees, and hiking trails and canoeing trails lead through the area.

3. Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge–Also near Shawnee National Forest, this National Wildlife Refuge also has cypress swamps, with some of the cypresses being more than 1,000 years old. In fact, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service, which administers the refuge, this NWR has the oldest trees east of the Mississippi River.

4. Beall Wood State Park–The Wood Dale audience member who asked about old-growth mentioned this state park, and it’s definitely one of the four places in the Prairie State with old growth. According to the state, there are about 330 acres of old trees, consisting primarily of white oaks, sycamores, tulip trees, and American sweet gum.

I’m excited to know about this old growth in our state and intend to explore them!