Forest Faves: McDowell Grove
Each DuPage County Forest Preserve has something that sets it apart from the rest. For McDowell Grove Forest Preserve in Naperville, its rich history and variety of recreational options make it a unique gem in DuPage County. District Police Officer Will Johnson loves McDowell Grove’s fishing spots and the trails that weave through the preserve’s diverse natural habitat.
Johnson’s favorite spot at McDowell Grove is this small mouth opening to the West Branch of the DuPage River by the parking lot. He finds it to be a great place for fishing and starting or ending a canoe or kayak ride. He also enjoys the calmness of fishing in Mud Lake, which is further into the preserve.
Johnson is a history buff and relishes McDowell Grove’s rich history with the Civilian Conservation Corps. In the 1930s, the preserve was a camp for the Civilian Conservation Corps, a work-relief program part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation that built bridges, picnic areas, a boathouse, bridle paths and a limestone dam on the West Branch of the DuPage River. During World War II, the site served as a secret installation for developing radar technology. (For more on the history of McDowell Grove, read "Deconstructing Camp McDowell")
Today, the 465-acre McDowell Grove Forest Preserve is comprised of mature woodlands, open fields with eastern bluebirds and Cooper’s hawks, and a floodplain forest with towering butternuts and black maples.
The state has stocked the West Branch DuPage River with small-mouth bass for catch-and-release fishing. Anglers will find catfish, bass, carp, sunfish and bluegill in 22-acre Mud Lake.
Other popular recreational activities at McDowell Grove include picnicking at the 25-person shelter along the river or the 150-person picnic area to the southeast, and hiking or biking along the nearly seven miles of trails. The trails connect to the Regional Trail, which links with four other preserves.
Johnson loves autumn at McDowell Grove and the striking colors of the maple trees. He suggests the best time to visit this preserve is in the early morning or late afternoon.