Forest Faves: Herrick Lake
After a fresh snowfall has blanketed the trails of Herrick Lake Forest Preserve in Wheaton, District senior ranger David Sima is at peace grooming the trails for cross country skiers. Although he’s done it many times, he still finds the quiet beauty of the 896-acre forest preserve breathtaking. Whatever the season, Herrick Lake is home to an impressive natural lake, prairies with scattered woodlands and a wide variety of wildlife. The preserve is also a substantial link in a 3,700-acre chain of open space that includes Danada, Warrenville Grove, St. James Farm and Blackwell forest preserves.
Sima’s favorite spot to relax at Herrick Lake is the back wooded area. He likes to stop here when grooming and roaming around the trails to take in all of the clear space. He believes that this is what a real forest should look like. Sima helped manage the clearing of nonnatives and prescription burns from the area, which is also home to a squirrel box his son made for a Boy Scout project. He finds the best time of day to visit is early in the morning to avoid crowds and spot wildlife.
Herrick Lake is home to an impressive variety of wildlife. Ecologists have recorded more than 254 resident and migrant animal species among the preserve’s 470 different types of plants. In the mature upland woods, stately 150-year-old white, red and bur oaks provide habitat for animals like woodpeckers, squirrels and owls.
Along the forest preserve’s pothole marshes and streams, silver maple and buttonbush grow. Raccoons, woodchucks, northern orioles, wood thrushes, and various frogs and toads dwell in this area, which is seasonally covered with colorful swamp buttercup and wild iris. Herrick Marsh, which lies in the middle of the forest preserve, supports communities of cattails and reeds, a draw for eastern tiger salamanders, northern leopard frogs, pied-billed grebes, blue-winged teals, red-winged blackbirds, minks and muskrats.
Herrick Lake offers several nice areas for picnicking. Sima recommends the picnic tables surrounded by beautiful white pine trees on the west side of the lake. Another favorite spot for picnicking is this Civilian Conservation Corps picnic shelter and fireplace at the south end of the lake. Groups can reserve the east, west and south shelters and the west picnic area online or by calling Visitor Services at 630-933-7248.
Other recreational activities include boating, kayaking, cross-country skiing, fishing, hiking and horseback riding. Rowboats, canoes and kayaks are available for rental for $10 an hour or $50 for the day from April through September.
Sima is a big fan of biking the preserve’s seven miles of trails. The preserve’s impressive trail system includes a section of the Regional Trail that connects Herrick and Danada forest preserves, a designated “National Recreation Trail” under the federal National Trails System Act. A one-mile crushed limestone Lake Trail loop circles the natural glacial lake, offering stunning views throughout the year.
Fishing is also a popular past-time at Herrick Lake. Hundreds of largemouth bass, channel and flathead catfish, crappie and sunfish provide sport at the 22-acre Herrick Lake, which has been part of the District’s fisheries-management program for more than 30 years. Periodic stocking of catchable-sized sport fish supplements the natural fishery.
Herrick Lake is also home to the District’s only youth-group cabin that can accommodate up to 26 people equipped with picnic tables and a fire ring.
New maps and trail markers will be installed at Herrick Lake in fall 2016 to help visitors better navigate the trails. Posts will have trail names, directional arrows and distances to parking lots.