Most of Buffalo Creek was previously owned by the Popp family, who ran a dairy farm before converting to grain crops such as soybeans, wheat and corn. A German immigrant from Munich, John Popp (1832–1922) arrived in the U.S. in 1851 and settled in Wheeling. In 1854, he married Margaretha Weidner (1832–1910). The couple had nine children. The eldest son, George Popp (1861–1951), took over the farm operation. George, and his family after him, farmed the land continuously until 1979. The Popp family was proud of their farm and worked the land with industry and spirit. A plaque set in a boulder at the preserve says, “In the future as this land serves the public by providing flood control and outdoor recreation, it will stand as a monument to the patriotism, industry and spirit of the Popp family.”
Acquisition of this land took place in several purchases between 1978 and 1998. Schaeffer Road divides the preserve—land on the east was obtained primarily for flood water detention and land on the west for preservation of open space. Due to the land's suitability for flood control, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District assisted with some of the acquisition.
Depending on seasonal rainfall, changes occur regularly in the appearance of the preserve’s dam, reservoir and sprawling creeks. The prairie is a favorite nesting spot for grassland birds, including bobolinks and eastern meadowlarks. Public access and restoration projects have been ongoing since the 1980s.
Completed in 2020, the most recent improvements are the addition of 1.7 miles of trails, seven new boardwalks, two scenic overlooks, and 30 additional parking spaces. An existing 0.5-mile trail segment in a flood-prone area was relocated to higher ground. Restoration efforts included 19 acres of new wetland, 60 acres of new prairie and savanna, 1,000 native trees and shrubs, and a massive expansion of the reservoir. Valued at $9.6 million, these improvements were completed at no cost to the Lake County Forest Preserves, thanks to an intergovernmental agreement with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago.
We’ve completed several flood management, wetland mitigation and recreational trail projects with varying organizations and jurisdictions. A collaboration with the Lake County Department of Transportation occurred in the western 62 acres of the preserve. A wetland mitigation bank was created by returning former farm fields to a natural condition through the removal of drain tiles and the rehydration of wetlands that once occurred here.
We are currently collaborating with the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Village of Arlington Heights to complete a pedestrian crosswalk at Wilke Road for safe access across Lake Cook Road to trails at Buffalo Creek, further expanding connections to this gem of a preserve.
The Natural Scene
Prior to European settlement, this land supported a tallgrass prairie dotted with a few small wetlands. Restoration of that prairie has been underway since the 1980s. Though the land has been drastically altered, first by farming and later during reservoir construction, a surprising diversity of grassland birds uses the preserve, including bobolinks and eastern meadowlarks.
Much of this preserve is managed for flood control, as evinced by a dam on Buffalo Creek and the reservoir that results. Careful and creative design of the reservoir has created a natural-looking wetland. In designing the expansion of the reservoir, it was important to our landscape architects and land planners that it have the look of a natural body of water and blend with the land.
View drone photos of the wetland mitigation work ongoing at the preserve.