SPRING LAKE NATURE PARK 1413 E. 16th Road, Streator From the moment your feet crunch into the parking lot’s gravel, you can hear the water. That’s the call of the falls. Spring Lake Falls is among the park’s best-loved and most scenic locations — and it’s less than a two-minute walk from the car. A short hike along a grassy path and over a wooden bridge opens onto a rocky waterside where hikers can view the gently sloping sandstone-formation waterfalls. The falls are accessible through a simple stroll, but for more adventurous visitors, the park features a system of 12 trails, most of which are half-mile loops or shorter. Spring Lake Nature Park’s trail system is an ideal option for families seeking easy access to nature. Six of the trails are mostly level, which are easy for young children to travel.
Spring Lake Falls
Where is the lake? Despite the park’s name, there is no lake at the nature area. A spring-fed lake once existed in the area, and in the 1800s a dam was constructed to maintain the water level for commercial ice production in pre-refrigerator years. When ice was no longer a commercial venture, the dam was dismantled, creating the park’s current system of meandering streams and falls. The swinging bridge at Spring Lake Nature Area crosses Eagle Creek.
Spring Lake Nature Area is a familyfriendly hike for all ages — and dogs are welcome, too. 40 Summer 2019
For families with older children or adults, there are additional trails with steeper inclines, such as Overlook Trail or the narrow, sharpdescending Beaver Run path. The uphill climbs to ridges and overlooks can be accomplished in less than two minutes, with the rest of the trail on level ground. A highlight of the park is its swinging bridge. Like the falls, the bridge is accessible within a short walk from the parking lot. The shallow waters of Eagle Creek can be seen through the slats of the bridge, which bounces underfoot as hikers cross to reach six of the trail loops. Creek-crossers should be aware: The swinging bridge
comes with a set of three rules. No. 1, no more than two people crossing at a time; No. 2, no running; and No. 3, absolutely no bouncing. On the trails, hikers will quickly and frequently encounter the two W’s: woods and water. Eagle Creek snakes in and out of the 37-acre nature area, repeatedly crossing paths with visitors. The wooded areas are home to more than 85 bird species, as well as deer, foxes, coyotes, beavers, snakes, frogs and wild flora. Hikers shouldn’t miss out on a photo opportunity with Spring Lake’s mightiest flora, which has its own trail. Big Tree Trail loops around a
more than two-century-old cottonwood tree, which lives up to the name Big Tree. Horses and bikes can be ridden on the trails, and leashed dogs are welcome at the park, which is open year-round from sunrise to sunset. Portable bathroom facilities are available in the parking area.
DAYTON BLUFFS PRESERVE 2997 Route 71, Ottawa From the moment you turn onto the gravel road threequarters of a mile from the Interstate 80 exit, you’ll leave behind the sense of city and interstate. Once you step out of the car and embark onto the trails, Starved Rock Country