The Goose Lake Prairie State Park in Morris, Illinois exemplifies why the State of Illinois is called the “Prairie State”. This name came from the fact that, prior to and during a considerable part of the 1800s, the state was composed of 60 percent prairie land with the other 40 percent being prairie indigenous flowering plants. Despite the land being very fertile, the absence of or the difficulty associated with properly draining the land prevented its extensive utilization for agriculture. This state park and the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie are nostalgic reminders of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem that once thrived in and covered more than half of the state.
Goose Lake Prairie State Park is located in Grundy County on the northeast corner of Illinois approximately 60 miles southwest of the city of Chicago. It grew from the 250 acres of land purchased by the State as the start of a nature preserve in 1969 into the 2,537-acre park it is today. Its patches of old-growth tallgrass have become the home of butterflies, moths, and other rare insects that can survive nowhere else, some of which were believed to be extinct. Animals native to prairies, such as cottontail rabbit, muskrat, deer, coyote, red fox, badger and beaver, can be sighted quite often by hikers and visitors. It is also classified as one of Illinois’ important bird areas. Those who visit the park feel as if they have walked 150 years into the past when tallgrass prairieland still abounded throughout the whole state.
One of Goose Lake Prairie State Park’s special attractions is a log cabin, built in 1838 that was dubbed “The Palace” in its heyday when it was considered quite luxurious. The cabin was actually transplanted from where it was originally built near the town of Mazon located about ten miles to the south. The Cragg family owned and lived in it even though it was used like a modern day bus stop for the teamster trail from Bloomington to Chicago.
The trails around the park are the best way to experience what it has to offer. There are about 7 miles of trail and much of these are readily accessible using a wheelchair. Those who love to experience nature’s diversity will enjoy the Sagashka Trail. This trail goes through several different habitats, a nature preserve, marshy areas, and restoration areas. These areas all support waterfowl. There is also a self-guiding trail called the Tall Grass Nature Trail. As it says in its name, trekking through this trail will get you to the park’s Indian grass and big bluestems. These tallgrass are old-growth and quite a number of the eight feet plus really tall grasses are in evidence. The Prairie View Trail will provide the visitor with a visual history of the area. It is about three and a half miles long and goes from prairieland to farmland. Along the route areas where strip mines are being reclaimed can be seen. Also, the effects of the attempts made by farmers to make the area arable are in evidence. In winter, these trails may be used for cross-country skiing. Please be advised that dog sleds pulled by a team, bicycles, and any form of motor vehicle are not allowed on the trails.
A visit to the park will not be complete without spending some time at the visitor center. There are different multi-media presentations and videos that shed light on the area that are put together by the park’s volunteers. Guided hikes for groups may be arranged there. Those groups numbering 25 or more, although quite welcome, need advance permission from the site superintendent. So, if a large group is planning a visit, advance notice should be given so the necessary arrangements can be made.
Goose Lake Prairie State Park is open year round. There are two picnic areas, a picnic shelter, and a number of restrooms in strategic locations. The park’s office may be contacted by phone at 815-942-2899 or through email, firstname.lastname@example.org