Forest Faves: Pratt's Wayne Woods
When searching for a serene spot to drop a line and catch some fish, there is no better place for District ranger Sarah Welsh than Pratt’s Wayne Woods Forest Preserve in Wayne. The 3,478-acre preserve is the largest in DuPage County and features several lakes and 12 miles of trails for hiking, biking, horseback riding and cross-country skiing. Combined with James “Pate” Philip State Park to the north, it forms a continuous 4,000-acre stretch of open space.
The Wayne-DuPage Hunt Club has been riding in the area for more than 100 years and continues to host equestrian events at the forest preserve. As a result of these events and other horse trial groups, horse jumps are located throughout the preserve but are only for advanced riders.
Welsh’s favorite spot to unwind is on the fishing piers at Pickerel Lake, which features limestone shorelines and two fishing piers. While fishing for crappie and rainbow trout, Welsh takes in the beautiful scenery. The District stocks the lake twice a year with approximately 2,000 rainbow trout in preparation for the spring and fall trout season. When not on the fishing pier, Welsh enjoys hiking along the preserve’s combined 12 miles of trails and taking in the wooded and diverse scenery.
Pratt’s Wayne Woods offers 58 acres of the finest fishing in the county at Pickerel Lake, Catfish Pond, Horsetail Pond, Beaver Slough and Harrier Lake, which is catch-and-release only. The District periodically stocks all but Beaver Slough with channel catfish and largemouth bass, but all five contain several popular species.
Welsh recommends visiting Pratt’s Wayne Woods in the early morning to view the sunrise or late afternoon for sunset. A visit in the fall is also recommended to take in the spectacular fall colors on display.
Pratt’s Wayne Woods is home to the 256-acre Brewster Creek Marsh Nature Preserve, which was dedicated in 2012 and is comprised of freshwater marsh and tall-grass meadow. The site supports numerous populations of rare birds, reptiles and native plants.
In 1998, the District started work on the Brewster Creek Wetland Restoration Project in the north central part of the preserve. Since then, it has removed agricultural drainage tiles, resaturated the ground and returned more than 130 acres to viable wetland ecosystems. In 2005, work at the site unearthed the 12,000-year-old remains of a mastodon, giving it paleontological as well as ecological significance.
Pratt’s Wayne Woods is located in the outwash plain of the West Chicago Moraine. Made up largely of wetlands, this landscape combines calcium-rich water with wet sandy soil to support plant life more commonly seen near Lake Michigan.
Diverse wildlife can be found roaming, flying and swimming around at this preserve. In its marshy areas, egrets, great blue herons and wood ducks can be found. In 2004, Audubon named the forest preserve an Important Bird Area for its grassland and wetland habitats that continue to be successful breeding sites for rare species, such as sandhill cranes, Henslow’s sparrows, least bitterns and yellow-headed blackbirds.
Pratt’s Wayne Woods also features areas for picnicking, including a 100-person reservable picnic shelter, and two youth-group campsites that can accommodate up to 25 campers. The sites are close to trails and lakes as well as restrooms.
The District is working on a project to complete a 1.5-mile trail through the preserve linking to the Illinois Prairie Path Elgin Branch and marking the completion of the 35-mile North Central DuPage Regional Trail.