A guest review of the Forest Preserve

Author’s note: I’m taking a short Fall break so this week’s guest column is written by my friend Rocky. It’s a local park review of the Sangamon River Forest Preserve. I’ve run into Rocky frequently while hiking there and asked if he’d like to write a review. He was excited and happy to do it! Thanks Rocky!

I really like the Sangamon River Forest Preserve. It’s one of my favorite places to hang out for lots of reasons. This newest forest preserve has both lots of woods and wide open prairies; it has the Sangamon River, Wildcat Slough and other small streams and even a historic farmhouse and barns.

I mean, really, how much more could a guy like me want in a place to just hang out and be me?

And while the big rocks with the red and white arrows help the people get around the trails pretty easily, I know it so well I could take them or leave them.

And I’ve explored just about every corner of the place myself. I’ve walked all along Wildcat Slough, the Sangamon River (both banks), and been all over the woods and through the prairies, both on and off the trails that the Forest Preserve people so nicely have cleared and keep maintained.

I’ve been in and out of the barns out there several times and have even explored the property across the river, a large part of which is also part of the Forest Preserve.

It’s just a really great place for a guy like me to get out and wander!

Why, over the years, I’ve even created several of my own little secret trails all through there to get to and from the places that I particularly like.

The people that visit also seem to like those big, tall interpretive signs that they put up, but they’re way too high for me, unless I climb a nearby tree and look down. And I can’t read anyway, but I can tell you that they do have some really nice pictures.

One place I particularly like is the white oak forest. These are some beautiful old trees that survived the prairie fires over many, many years to grow to a very impressive size.

These spreading, shady trees can be a great place for a long, lingering summer afternoon nap. Usually, I climb up on one of the fat branches that stretch out sideways far above the ground and just relax the afternoon away. Good times!

The people call this river the “Sangamon” but my family and I think of it just as “the place where there is plenty to eat”.  My family has survived for generations on all the great food around here. Start with the berries and fruit trees. And then there’s the tasty acorns in the Fall from all those oaks. Yummy!

We also have eggs quite a lot. And while we enjoy those pretty blue robin eggs in the Spring, we prefer duck and goose eggs. But those geese can get pretty testy defending their nests sometimes. I mean, the way they act you’d think we were stealing their babies or something!

And then there’s the Sangamon River. Now occasionally we can catch a few fish, but a real treat are Sangamon River mussels. Mmm-mmm, they are delicious. We’ll eat all varieties, but really we prefer the Papershells of the Fat Pocketbooks, the biggest and juiciest of the Sangamon’s mussels. And it always seems like the Sangamon has all the mussels we need. It’s a very healthy river for us!

But for a special treat, we like to wander the picnic area up near the parking lot. The people that picnic there can leave behind some tasty treats.

I mean, take the parking lot garbage can. Now I imagine it pales in comparison to the legendary Dairy Queen dumpster my friends rave on and on about, but on summer weekends, it’s often got sandwich crusts, chicken bones, apple cores, and – wow – what they leave behind in those cole slaw and potato salad containers! I mean, geez! Were these people even hungry?

There are several things to watch out for here, too. I’ve lost several of my younger relatives to the big wide flat rock path out front. I mean, those big metal things zoom by so fast, particularly at night, just when we like to get out and have some fun. I keep telling the young ones that it’s safest just to stay in the forest preserve and stick close to home, but do they listen? Well you know how young ones are.

And don’t even get me started about the dog visitors. They can be really scary! Even on their leashes!

I mean, this guy comes out here a lot and brings this black and white coon-hound/lab mix and that dog scares the bejeezus out of me! Luckily this forest preserve has plenty of trees around I can climb so all that crazy dog can do is hop around and bark a lot from the ground at the base of the tree. But I’ll tell you, if that guy had a gun, I’d be an easy-picking goner, that’s for sure.

On balance though, if you’re careful out there in the forest, like any visitor should be, and respect the wild creatures of the forest too, you and your family are sure to have an awesome outdoor experience like I always have with mine.

Yes, the Sangamon River Forest Preserve is a great place to live, work, play, explore, eat, and raise a family. I thoroughly recommend a visit.

Maybe you’ll see me around. I only ask that you leave the coon-hound at home.

Thanks to Scott for the opportunity to share my review,

Sincerely, Rocky Raccoon

Appeared as Notes from the River, Mahomet Citizen, October 31, 2013, by Scott Hays

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