Editor's Note: Have you found your “Happy Place” in the forest preserves of Will County? If so, share your story with us so we can let people know about all of the wonderful spots that bring joy to preserve visitors year-round. If you have a "Happy Place" story to share, contact public information officer Cindy Cain at email@example.com.
When it comes to choosing a “Happy Place” in the forest preserves, one site tops them all for Lynn Kurczewski, the District’s director of visitor services.
The sled hill at Goodenow Grove Nature Preserve has special meaning for Kurczewski professionally and personally.
“Goodenow Grove is one of the District’s largest land holdings and the sled hill provides such a commanding panoramic view of the preserve,” she explained. “You can see both fields and old forest and get an idea of how big a place it is. That’s rare today in northeastern Illinois to be able to see such an unobstructed view of land with no roads, electric lines, etc. To go up on the hill and see how the prairie and forest look different and change throughout the year is breathtaking.”
Goodenow Grove is the first preserve where Kurczewski worked when she was hired as a naturalist by the District 31 years ago. She worked at Plum Creek Nature Center for eight years.
“I spent hours hiking all over the preserve and being mentored by Tim Dring, a fellow naturalist at the time, whose dad was Pete Dring, the longtime director of the Little Red Schoolhouse in Cook County. Tim and I spent any downtime we had in the preserve, and he taught me about birds, tree identification, prairie plants, prairie succession, forests and how to read and understand the natural processes in nature.”
Kurczewski also led countless public and school group hikes at the site. But it was the sled hill that always drew people’s attention because it is such a prominent feature in the preserve, she said.
“One of my favorite ways to end a field trip was to gather the kids near the base of the hill to recap all that we had learned that day,” Kurczewski recalled. “And then I would say, 'OK, there’s one more thing you need to do today: beat me to the top of the hill!' We’d all take off running, and then the kids would roll down the hill and climb back up, and roll back down again before they had to get on the bus to leave. The kids were so happy, it was just awesome.”
Kurczewski said the sled hill also was important to her as a mom.
“I took my kids to the sled hill often, in winter for sledding and at other times of the year. On days when it was sunny and there were big puffy clouds, we played a 'cloud chasers' game. We would start at the bottom of the hill and run up and try to beat or outrun the cloud shadows to the top of the hill.”
Finally, Kurczewski said she loved working at the nature center during winter when people had a blast sledding down the hill.
“We were jampacked with folks coming to rent tubes,” she said. “The days were so busy between wrangling tubes, mopping the floor, adding wood to the fire, and making more coffee and hot water. But people love to sled that hill, and I always enjoyed working those days.”
The Goodenow Grove sled hill – Kurczewski’s ‘Happy Place’ – is still a popular spot in the District where family memories are made year-round. It will open for sledding after December 1 when proper snow conditions exist.
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