Celebrate spring at The Little Red Schoolhouse, Cook County Forest Preserves

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Thursday, May 22, 2014
Celebrate spring at Cook County Forest Preserves
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Celebrate spring at The Little Red Schoolhouse of the Cook County Forest Preserves.

WILLOW SPRINGS, Ill. (WLS) -- Since it took three years for the Cook County Forest Preserve District to solidify 100 years ago, the centennial celebration is being held over a three-year period.

Many of the special events will be held at one of the preserve's more famous nature centers - The Little Red Schoolhouse.

The Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center in Willow Springs is the perfect blend of historic and modern. The new visitor center opened in 2010, with more animals exhibits and an activity room.

"It's totally accessible, and we have accessible exhibits as well as activities for visitors of all abilities," Little Red Schoolhouse Director Julie Vandervort said. "Inside we have a year round turtle pond, which is fabulous."

You get a great view of the endangered alligator snapping turtles.

The namesake Little Red Schoolhouse opened in 1955 as the first nature center of its kind in the Midwest, but it has a fascinating history long before that.

"The Little Red School House Nature Center was actually a one room school house that was used between 1886 and 1948," Vandervort said. "That was when the last graduating class had used that building."

The schoolhouse has been renovated. New trails and gardens are in the works. It's all part of the future plan.

"Protecting the land, getting many more people into the preserves, that's a big deal for us," Cook County Forest Preserve District General Superintendent Arnold Randall said, "really looking at how we manage ourselves, making sure we have a good governing structure moving forward and talking about the economic benefits of having a forest preserve system in Cook County."

"We need to add assets, we need to add land area to the forest preserve and we've got to do a really good job of maintaining what we've got and restoring what we've got," Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said. "I guess I'd put the emphasis on restoration."

The district recently purchased Horizon Farms, 397 acres of foreclosed property in Barrington Hills.

Bull Frog Lake near Palos will have cabins and tent platforms by next summer. The old ski jump at Swallow Cliff Woods is now nature's "Stair-Master."

The Trailside Museum of Natural History is already celebrating the centennial with the recent spring festival of outdoor activities, dip netting and animal encounters. Trailside is adding Dog Days of Summer hikes with your dog this summer.

There are many special programs and events - not only at the nature centers, but at various preserves themselves. There are also many opportunities to volunteer at the preserves, from removing invasive species to assisting in a controlled burn to restore natural areas.