The Forest Preserve District is throwing a party to show off improvements at Isle a la Cache preserve, including a new Native American lifeways exhibit and a recently completed large-capacity picnic shelter.
The "Island Showcase" celebration will take place from 4-8 p.m. Friday, July 30. And to make the event even more enticing, a “Food Truck Friday” program wil also be included so guests can purchase scrumptious snacks and meals while touring the newly enhanced preserve.
Exhibits will be open from 4-7 p.m. and food truck fare will be available for purchase until 8 p.m. Food trucks slated to attend are:
The showcase will be the perfect time for visitors to take in the improvements and explore the lush preserve that is nestled between two branches of the Des Plaines River.
“This is the culmination of work that makes the Island a completely different place,” said Tina Riley, the site's facility supervisor, regarding the recent enhancements to the preserve.
The new lifeways exhibit brings the 18th-century fur trade era to life and is a continuation of the indoor exhibits at Isle a la Cache Museum.
As visitors walk east of the museum, they will encounter a new welcome sign that explains more about the site including how to pronounce Isle a la Cache (Eel ah la CAHSH). The sign also lists all of the fun activities that the preserve and museum offer.
“And it sets the tone for what they will be able to see and do as they tour the preserve,” Riley said.
Four interpretive stops
A new interpretive trail from the welcome area continues east to a boardwalk that crosses a creek and leads to the first stop, which features a deck for group program demonstrations.
“It’s also a wonderful place for bird-watching,” Riley said.
Continue your journey east and south on another new trail spur to visit the second stop, which explores the three-sisters agricultural history named for the plants (squash, beans and corn) that Native Americans often paired together due to their symbiotic nature.
The third stop features interpretive panels that focus on "Living on the Land" and how the Potawatomi survived through the seasons growing crops, harvesting wild rice, nuts and berries and how they even made maple sugar, a valuable trade item.
The fourth stop, "Longhouse Living," includes a replica Potawatomi longhouse. As part of the lifeways exhibit improvements, the longhouse has been upgraded to include an interior display that features a multipurpose structure made of maple harvested from fallen trees.
“During the day it served as a workspace, at night it could be converted into a bunk,” Riley said. “Everything in a longhouse was multipurpose. I like to think of it as the original tiny house.”
Outside, the longhouse now has a cooking area and replica log bench seating, which serves as another gathering area.
“This is another area where we can teach from and perform cooking demonstrations,” Riley said. “And we can show how they would have tanned or prepared animals they would have hunted.”
The trail to the longhouse passes above the site’s pollinator garden, which was installed a few years ago to inspire visitors to plant their own pollinator-friendly species at home.
The lifeways exhibit was made possible by a Public Museum Capital Grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
“The improvements have expanded the Forest Preserve's resources for Native American programming, which was the No. 1 goal,” Riley said. “As with all projects, we also wanted to make things more attractive and beautiful and this project certainly enhances the campus. All of the improvements and new trail connections give people more circuits to walk when they visit Isle a la Cache.”
In addition to the new lifeways exhibit, the preserve also has a new 150-capacity picnic shelter which is perched above a branch of the Des Plaines River that borders the island on the west side. The shelter is open for rentals and because of its large size, the Forest Preserve expects it to be a popular site for family reunions, weddings, birthday bashes and other festive gatherings. The Village of Romeoville contributed $50,000 toward the shelter project.
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