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Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area

About Teddy Bear Ratings5010 N. Jugtown Rd.
Morris, IL 60450
(815) 942-2899

Goose Lake Prairie State Natural AreaWhen Lincoln was starting in Illinois, those early pioneers describe the terrain as �a sea of grass with pretty flowers.� Today, Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area displays the prairies that once covered nearly 60 percent of Illinois. Goose Lake Prairie, whose original 240 acres were purchased by the state in 1969 and which now totals 2,537 acres, is the largest remnant of prairie left in Illinois. Buffalo, wolf and prairie chicken once inhabited the area that is now Goose Lake Prairie.

From I-55 to exit 240 Lorenzo Road/Pine Bluff Road, travel west approximately 7.5 miles to Jugtown Road. Turn north on to Jugtown Road and travel 1 mile to entrance on the right side to Goose Lake Prairie State Park. Goose Lake Prairie is about 1 mile southwest of the confluence of the Kankakee and Des Plaines rivers. More than half of Goose Lake Prairie is a devoted nature preserve. It also is an important nesting habitat for endangered species of birds, such as the upland sandpiper and Henslow�s sparrow.


Goose Lake Prairie provides tables, grills, shelters, water and toilets at two picnic areas at Goose Lake Prairie.


Glaciers sculpted Goose Lake Prairie. When ice melted about 14,000 years ago, it formed this flat landscape with its clay-based soils. The area became part of the vast prairie grassland that stretched from Indiana to the Rockies. At one time, the prairie covered over half of Illinois, earning it the nickname of �The Prairie State.�

Mound-building groups of Native Americans lived northwest of the area in what is now Morris. Tribes of the Illini confederation intermittently inhabited the area, hunting and planting corn, squash and beans. They and other Native Americans, including the Potawatomi led by Chief Shabbona, existed with the land, making few permanent changes.

Those early settlers had to relying on the land for their livelihoods and made drastic changes to the area. They planted trees to serve as windbreaks and fences for their farms; in an effort to gain more farmland. They drained the 1,000-acre Goose Lake into non-existence; they removed the underlying clay, first to make pottery and jugs and later for fire brick; they mined coal beginning in the 1820s and in 1928 began strip mining the land.

The Prairie�s Present

Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area is a study in contrasts. Tall Grass Nature Trail displays the largest stand of tall grass prairie remaining in Illinois. Marsh Loop Trail shows the ponds and marshes that resulted from the 1890 decision by local farmers to drain Goose Lake. Prairie View Trail takes you to the highest point in Goose Lake Prairie - a strip mine spoil mound - and offers a panoramic view of reclaimed mine areas, prairie and prairie marsh.

Grasses And Flowers

Visiting Goose Lake Prairie today is much like seeing the Prairie State as it was 150 years ago. Tall prairie grasses, including big bluestem, Indian grass and switch grass, make up 60 percent of the prairie. By far the tallest of these is prairie cordgrass, commonly reaching heights of 8 to 12 feet. When you�re near 2-foot-tall northern prairie dropseed, you may get the sudden urge to see a movie - its seeds smell like hot buttered popcorn.


Broad-leaved flowering plants, known collectively as forbs, compose the prairie�s other 40 percent. Cream false indigo, shooting star and violets are the first to bloom toward the end of April or early May, while New England asters and goldenrod bring up the rear of the colorful display in early September. Autumn is a lovely time on the prairie - some say it is the prettiest season of the year - as prairie cord grass, big bluestem, switch and other grasses turn bronze and gold.


Wildlife sightings are the order of the day at Goose Lake Prairie. Animals living here include deer, coyote, red fox, cottontail rabbit, muskrat, beaver and badger. Barred owls and red-tailed, Kestrels and marsh hawks are among the birds of prey you may see. Marsh birds such as red-winged blackbirds, kildeer, great blue herons and great egrets might be spotted in the warmer months, while waterfowl species include Canada geese, wood ducks, mallards and blue-winged teals. In addition to the area�s year-round inhabitants like ringneck pheasants and northern bobwhites, migrating birds include catbirds, eastern kingbirds and a variety of warblers.

The marsh is home to turtles, snakes and frogs, while butterflies frolic among the flowers each spring and summer. Rare papaipema moths, previously thought to be extinct, have been found here.

Cragg Cabin

A reconstructed cabin at Goose Lake Prairie stands as a monument to the pioneer spirit. The original cabin was built by John and Agnes Cragg in the late 1830s near Mazon, 10 miles to the southwest. A predecessor to a truck stop, the Cragg cabin served as a stop on the old Chicago-Bloomington Teamster Trail. The second story - which was added to accommodate the Cragg�s six children, making it one of the first two-story homes in Grundy County - earned the cabin the nickname of �The Palace.�


Goose Lake Prairie contains over 7 miles of hiking trails including a floating bridge. is to hit the trails. Prairie View Trail, with 3.5 miles of moderate hiking, goes through prairie and farmland. Visible are strip mine reclamation areas, low-lying marshes and farmland. Tall Grass Nature Trail is a self-guiding trek that winds through the prairie and the trail�s trademark grasses of big bluestem and Indian grass, which can grow to 8 feet in height.

Depending on the route you decide to take, the trail can be 1 or 3.5 miles long. One loop offers a hard-packed, wheelchair-accessible surface. The half-mile Marsh Loop Trail is located within the nature preserve and lets you see the effects of a turn-of-the-century attempt to gain more farmland by draining Goose Lake: farmers found the drained land, which remained very wet even after the draining, was suitable only for grazing livestock, and some acreage couldn�t even be used for that.

Keep in mind that one of the major reasons why Goose Lake Prairie survived was that it was generally far too wet to plant crops on. The marsh here was helped along by the decision to drain the lake, and today is home to all kinds of wetlands wildlife.

Trails are available for cross-country skiing in the winter. Check the visitor center for maps.

Visitor Center - Interpretive Programs at Goose Lake

Plan on a 30-minute or so stop at the visitor center, and you will enjoy your visit to Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area just a little bit more. A video will acquaint you with the area, as will the center�s nature displays. The park interpreter presents different weekend programs year-round.

Heidecke Lake

Adjacent to Goose Lake Prairie is the 2,000-acre Heidecke Lake, a cooling pond for Midwest Generating�s Collins Station.

Illinois manages the lake, which offers fishing and hunting. A boat launch is available only for those purposes. The do not allow water skiing, sailboating, swimming or wading. A concession area offering boat rentals is near the boat launch.

NOTE: The Illinois Department of Natural Resources does not charge an Entrance Fee to any state owned or operated land with the exception of Wildife Prairie Park and sites with beaches. Beaches charge a $1 a day per person for beach use only.

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