Riverwoods residents are fortunate to live close to a significant waterway that is home to a wide variety of plants and animals. Walk along the Des Plaines River Trail and Greenway and you will see evidence of the beaver’s handiwork, footprints of deer, raccoons and coyotes in the soft mud at the river’s edge, and possibly an American toad or leopard frog as it hops across the path. Irises bloom in the damp floodplain in spring, and owls, ducks, herons, and songbirds can be seen and heard as you walk. Huge burr oaks, swamp oaks, silver maples, and black walnuts are among the many species of trees that flourish in this wet area.
Since 1961, the Lake County Forest Preserve District has been planning for and building a trail along the river, piece by piece. In 2015 the 31.4 miles of trail were completed, and hikers, dog walkers, runners, horseback riders, cross-country skiers, and bikers now are able to travel from south through the Cook County portion of the trail to north all the way to the Wisconsin border.
Protection – The Des Plaines River Trail and Greenway protects more than 76% of the Lake County portion of the Des Plaines River. While the trail provides recreational opportunities, the Greenway (i.e. the undeveloped natural area surrounding the river) protects wildlife habitat and native plants, provides flood management, prevents erosion, and acts as a buffer against development along the river and floodplain.
In addition, the Greenway is an important flyway for migrating birds. According to Allison Frederick of the Lake County Forest Preserve, “Animals and plants, through their seed and pollen, are not cut off from each other and are less restricted in their movement. For such things as tiny frogs, rare butterflies and delicate wildflowers, which stay strong only through a genetic mix with other groups of their kin, the Greenway is crucial.” The remaining 24% of the land bordering the Des Plaines River is private and commercial property.
Recreation – Residents with canoes or kayaks may use the carry-in boat ramp on Route 60, just east of Milwaukee Avenue, on the west side of the river. Parking is available. There are a few dams along the waterway in Lake County (at Ryerson Woods, Daniel Wright Woods, Route 120, Buckley Road, and the Grainger Complex), including the two cable dams in the northern section built to simulate beaver dams as part of a wetlands restoration. It is a wonderfully scenic trip and worth the effort. However, the dams are not well marked, and the cable dams are not solid and cannot be run – portage is required – so those navigating the water must be vigilant.
For more details about the Des Plaines River Trail and Greenway, check out the Lake County Forest Preserve website at www.lcfpd.org.