Four Rivers Environmental Education Center is now open to walk-in traffic for the first time, and it features regular visitor centers hours as well as indoor exhibits.
In the past, Four Rivers had limited access because it was open only during public programs, school programs and facility rentals, including the many weddings that have taken advantage of the site’s outdoor shelter and indoor banquet room.
After a grand reopening on January 3, Four Rivers is now open the same hours as other Forest Preserve visitor centers: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; noon-4 p.m. Sundays; and closed Mondays. Camping, picnic and dog park permits can now be purchased at this visitor center.
Members of the public can access the building during business hours to view exhibits and talk to staff as they explore the surrounding McKinley Woods — Kerry Sheridan Grove preserve and its trail system, which links to the state’s 61.5-mile I&M Canal State Trail.
“Hikers, bicyclists, joggers, dog walkers, etc. can use Four Rivers to begin a long-distance trek or stay within the preserve for a more manageable outdoor experience,” said Chris Gutmann, the site's facility supervisor.
The visitor center is located in one of the most beautiful spots in Will County, near where the Des Plaines, DuPage and Kankakee rivers meet to form the Illinois River.
"Not only does Four River's location provide some unique scenic overlooks, but wildlife are drawn to this intersection of rivers," Gutmann said. "For example, this preserve routinely gets bird species that one would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere in the county with regularity. It draws some of these species in awe-inspiring abundance."
This abundance of bird species has made the site popular as a birding hub, Gutmann added.
"And improvements are on the way to make it even more appealing to birders," he said. "The site has become known for being a favorite preserve of American white pelicans, bald eagles and native swans, among other birds. Also, anglers are fond of the DuPage River access near the I&M Canal Trail junction. And the preserve also is very popular with photographers."
The land around Four Rivers showcases a variety of outdoor habitats and recreational options, he added.
"If someone isn't interested in fishing or seeing hundreds of birds on the water, there are patches of forest to explore and a small prairie that has stunning summer blooms."
The site's link to water and its biological diversity will be woven into the new exhibits coming to the visitor center, including:
- An augmented reality sandbox that will allow visitors to create a 3D topographic map and learn how landscapes affect watersheds.
- A Nature MakerSpace, which will allow children to become inspired by nature's designs and make their own creations using science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM). One activity will allow children to build their own giant eagle nests, while others will educate people on the bird life that can be viewed at Four Rivers.
- A green design exhibit that explains the building's sustainable features. Four Rivers was created from a repurposed building site, and it includes a geothermal heating and cooling system, recycled and sustainable building materials and energy-saving technology.
While some building modifications are planned to accommodate the exhibits, Four Rivers is big enough now to host more daytime visitors while continuing to provide a wide variety of programming, Gutmann said.
“The building's layout enables the site to host large rental gatherings, daily walk-in traffic and still have the capacity to host school programs and public programs,” he said.
Kerry Sheridan Grove
The origins of McKinley Woods date back to the 1930s. The Forest Preserve purchased its first 112 acres of McKinley Woods by the Frederick's Grove access area in 1931 and an additional 132 acres in 1937. Another 211 acres were acquired in 1993. And finally, 68 acres that included the Four Rivers site were purchased in 2003.
In 2007, the Kerry Sheridan Grove section of McKinley Woods opened. It was named in honor of former Board President Kerry Sheridan. Prior to the District's acquisition of the land, the site was a private resort and was commonly called "Moose Island."
Four Rivers Environmental Education Center opened in 2009. The visitor center’s name comes from its location near the Des Plaines, DuPage, Kankakee and Illinois rivers. Every room in the building provides views of the Des Plaines River and the peaceful, natural surroundings.
Opening Four Rivers up to more visitors shows off the building's beauty, the new exhibits and the wonderful recreational opportunities and diverse habitats the site has to offer, Gutmann said.
“Four Rivers is the epitome of the District’s mission,” he explained. “In addition to active conservation and restoration work happening on-site in the preserve, the visitor center is designed to provide as many services as possible to the public.”
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