| Story by Meghan McMahon |
Situated in the heart of Will County’s Lincoln-Way communities, Hickory Creek Preserve is a favorite of many people because of how accessible it is for area residents.
“Hickory Creek is our largest preserve in Will County, and it is truly embraced by its neighbors,” said Suzy Lyttle, an interpretive naturalist for the Forest Preserve District. “I have run into so many people who call this preserve their own backyard, myself included.”
The preserve is so large that it has three access areas: Hickory Creek Junction in Mokena, Hickory Creek Barrens Nature Preserve in New Lenox and LaPorte Road Access in Mokena.
Hickory Creek Preserve totals 1,541 acres across the three access areas, and the land was acquired between 1942 and 2010. The preserve acreage is part of the Hickory Creek preservation system, a conservation effort comprising more than 2,000 acres. Most of the land at Hickory Creek was acquired for a regional stormwater reservoir that never came to fruition.
The preserve is a hotspot for both wildlife viewing and recreational opportunities and a good place to visit year-round. Keep in mind, though, that natural spaces like these aren’t like zoos. You have to keep your eyes peeled — and your hands to yourself — to take in the wildlife in its natural habitat.
“I think the biggest tip to see wildlife is to be present while hiking,” Lyttle said. “Looking at every nook and cranny, closing your eyes and taking in all the sounds. Sometimes I am lucky and bump into critters, but other times you have to take your time and let them find you.”
If you’re looking for a more immersive and educational experience, Hickory Creek hosts a variety of programs throughout the year, everything from owl and bird hikes to biking tours and the popular Food Truck Fridays.
For Lyttle, Hickory Creek will always be a special place.
“I have so many memories and stories, I could write a book,” she said. “It is where I fell in love with fungus, flowers and owls.”
One memory in particular stands out for her. When Lyttle first started working for the Forest Preserve District, she worked as a teaching fellow, helping with programs in the preserves. During one program where students were studying dead logs, the kids were rolling logs over to search for insects underneath.
“I remember walking with the students and we stumbled upon a large broken tree. It had a big, hollow opening that looked like you could walk through it into a fairy world. At the base of the hole was a huge purple jelly fungus. It looked like and was the same size as a brain,” she said. “I was just as in awe as the students were. We all touched it and screamed. This was before making slime was all the rage, but it felt just like if you poked slime.”