The Volo Bog State Natural Area is a little over 40 miles northwest of Chicago, located at 28478 West Brandenburg Road in Ingleside, Illinois. It is the only remaining quaking bog with an open water center in the state of Illinois. The park opens at 8:00AM everyday, but closing time varies between 4:00 and 8:00PM depending on the season. The visitor's center (a converted barn) closes at 3:00PM.
The formation of the Volo Bog began thousands of years ago during the waning of the last ice age. The Wisconsin glacier deposited a massive chunk of ice as it melted, which eventually formed a 50 acre lake. This lake had steep banks and poor drainage, so it began to fill with vegetation approximately 6000 years ago. A mat of sphagnum moss began to form at the edges of the lake among cattails and sedges, and the water became increasingly acidic, limiting the types of life the lake could support. As the mat of moss and decaying plants thickened, it began to support rooted plants. The peat mat continued to thicken and spread while the supported plant life became more and more extensive so that today all three major stages in bog development can be seen in the Volo Bog. There remains a half acre of open water in the center surrounded by a mat of sphagnum moss, cattails and sedges, which then gives way to shrubs such as poison sumac and leatherleaf. Outside the shrub zone is tamarack forest. The bog is surrounded by marshes and meadows.
The bog is situated on land that was part of a dairy farm in the early part of the 20th century. Using $40,000 in donations, the Illinois Chapter of the Nature Conservancy purchased the bog in 1958, and later deeded the land to the University of Illinois. In the late 1960s development was encroaching on the bog, so a group of local residents organized themselves and got the bog land transfered to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources in 1970, and it became an Illinois nature preserve. In 1973 the Volo Bog was registered as a National Natural Landmark with the United States Department of the Interior. In the thirty years since then, more than 800 additional acres of land have been added to the park, which now includes marshes, prairie restoration projects, woodlands, and two more bogs.
The two main trails in the park are the Volo Bog Interpretive Trail, and the Tamarack View Trail. The Interpretive Trail is only a half-mile long, but can take quite some time for the curious individual to traverse. The trail is actually a wooden boardwalk built out onto the bog itself, marked with numbered signs which refer to trail brochures which describe the various parts of the bog. These brochures vary depending on the season so that the visitor knows what the most interesting things to look for are at any given time of year. Tours are available, as well as classes and other programs. Some of the most popular events are Astronomy nights and the summer bat programs (where there are wetlands, there are bound to be lots of insects, and where there are lots of insects, there will be lots of bats).
The Tamarack View Trail is just under three miles long, and depending on the weather can be quite an exhilarating hike. Most of the trail is flat or rolling hills covered with grass or woodchips. One section, however, goes directly through a marsh, so a boardwalk has been constructed which floats when the water level is high. The boardwalk is made of textured plastic, and has become somewhat worn over the years, so great care must be taken during winter when it becomes quite slippery. Wildlife is in abundance despite the close proximity of human development, including residential areas and a sand and gravel company (another legacy of the glacial origins of the local geology). I have seen white-tailed deer year-round, and there are numerous birds to be seen most of the year. Commonly seen birds include:
The Tamarack View Trail is a great place for photographers interested in birds, butterflies and other wildlife, but also can provide landscape photographers with some beautiful pictures during any season of the year. I rarely see litter along the trail, but camera lens caps are quite common. The visitors center has quite a collection of lens caps in its lost and found. I believe there is now a third trail in the park which branches off the Tamarack View Trail and crosses Brandenburg Road in the direction of the Pistakee Bog. I can't confirm that this trail is complete because I've never followed it, and the park maps and pamphlets haven't been updated since 1998.
Volo Bog informational pamphlet published by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources
Volo Bog Checklist of Birds published by the Friends of Volo Bog
My own experience, I live less than a mile from the park grounds