The Buzz

Preserves We Love: Lake Renwick, because it always delivers

A man stands with a camera with a lake in the background.
Digital communications manager Chad Merda at Lake Renwick Heron Rookery. (Photo by Anthony Schalk))

About this series: The Will County forest preserves mean many things to many people, including Forest Preserve District staff. Some of us enjoy the peace and tranquility of a particular preserve, while others among us enjoy the bustling feel of some of our more well-traveled trails. For some, the work we've done in the preserves is meaningful and fulfilling. "Preserves We Love" allows Forest Preserve staff to expound on their favorite preserve and why it's special to them. In this edition, digital communications manager Chad Merda tells us why Lake Renwick Preserve is such a special place.

We're fortunate to live in an area where there are healthy creeks, rivers, streams and lakes that give life to a diverse group of wildlife. While parts of Lake Renwick's water may be murky at best in the summer due to the large number of birds nesting — and pooping — on the Rookery side, this is one preserve that's helped me clearly see the value of these open spaces.

Prior to joining the Forest Preserve District in 2016, the bulk of my experience in the preserves was riding the trails. The goal was exercise, and the trails were the easiest way to do that while avoiding traffic. The nature part of it? That wasn't even on my radar, but that soon changed.

A good part of this job is being out in the preserves, shooting photos and videos and finding those magical moments to share with the public. Lake Renwick almost always delivers and has provided some of those on-the-job encounters I'll never forget. Even if one of those excursions involved a horrendous case of chiggers.

But let's focus on the good stuff.

In 2020, we were filming the first episode of our nature show, "The Buzz," and set up so the nesting islands off in the distance served as the backdrop. While getting some general shots, there was bald eagle activity on the islands. It's always fun to spot a bald eagle, but a closer look revealed a jackpot, with one of the eagles methodically picking through the remains of a double-crested cormorant. The cycle of life, as well as bald eagles' scavenging habits, were on full display right in front of us, and thankfully we were there to capture it and share it with the public.

Later that year, once the nesting birds had left for the season, I thought it would be fun to get in a kayak in December and take a trip out to the nesting islands to give people a unique, closeup view. It was cold, it was windy, and it wasn't a lot of fun making the trip there or back. However, being on those islands gave me a better appreciation for the scale of activity that goes on each summer, when double-crested cormorants, great blue herons, great egrets and black-crowned night herons nest and raise their offspring. Some don't make it, as evidenced by the remnants scattered about, but many do, thanks to the installation of permanent structures after the trees on the island that the birds were nesting in died.

Even though a lot of Lake Renwick focuses on the egrets and herons, there's so much more. While the Heron Rookery side is closed during nesting season, at other times of year the limestone trail is a perfect place for a leisurely stroll. You can see a wide variety of birds, including American white pelicans floating on the water, American woodcocks strutting their stuff or, in the winter, hundreds or even thousands of geese out on the water while the frozen lake is putting on its own version of a concert. If paved trails are more your thing, the Turtle Lake access has that thanks to the Lake Renwick Bikeway. That paved path is also a perfect spot to see some snakes warming up in the spring.

For me, Lake Renwick started out as a preserve to go to for work, but it's also become a spot to visit on my own time. Why go back so often? Every trip to this preserve can be completely different and is like a choose-your-own-adventure book. Pick a season, pick a path and keep your eyes and ears open to see what story it tells. 

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