Trail and Observation Deck
Thanks to an Open Space Land Acquisition and Development Program Grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, we were able to convert an existing asphalt roadway into a 0.7-mile recreational trail. The trail here connects to existing trails at adjacent Illinois Beach State Park via the 7th Street bike lanes.
The grant project also provided for a wildlife education and observation deck and ongoing habitat restoration work within the preserve.
This 229-acre preserve was designated as one of the original 10 sites for acquisition due to its high quality natural area. Purchase of the land began in 1963.
In December 1839, Federal surveyors walked the land and noted marshes, sand ridges and scattered black oaks. They further stated that the soil was sandy and wet, and “unfit for cultivation.” As a result, the land use by local farmers was largely limited to the grazing of cows and sheep, and mowing the “slough grass” for hay, but not for planting crops.
In 1871, a post office was established on Sheridan Road with the name Spring Bluff. By 1873, the name was also in use for the Chicago & North Western Railway station at Third Avenue. At the time, Third Avenue continued east of Sheridan Road to the rail line.
The Natural Scene
Spring Bluff is primarily wetlands with oak savanna and prairie. Land at Spring Bluff is part of a greater ecological complex that supports multiple natural landmarks, including the recent designation as a RAMSAR Wetland of International Importance, nine endangered plant and animal species, and 114 bird species. Ongoing habitat restoration is supported by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Coastal Management Program through a federal grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce.
In 1992, the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission dedicated Spring Bluff as an Illinois Nature Preserve for its high quality and unique natural resources. In 2015, the Ramsar Contracting Parties placed the Chiwaukee Prairie Illinois Beach Lake Plain onto the List of Wetlands of International Importance: The Ramsar List. The Ramsar Convention is an intergovernmental treaty for protection of exemplary wetland systems around the world. Spring Bluff resides within this Lake Plain, which includes adjacent lands covering 15 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline in southeastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois.
Spring Bluff is in the Lake Michigan Dunes Section of the Northeastern Morainal Natural Division. It is a complex of beach-ridges and dunes that formed between 3,000-4,000 years ago, when Lake Michigan was about 20 feet above the present stage. This ridge and swale topography has given rise to a diversity of plant communities, including sand prairie, sand savanna, marsh and graminoid fen, which provide habitat for many migratory and breeding wildlife species. Records of notable breeding species include Henslow's sparrow, king and Virginia rails, upland sandpiper, least and American bitterns and common snipe. In addition, these communities support a rich diversity of plant species, including royal fern, hoary and fringed puccoon, butterfly weed, white wild indigo, ragged fringed orchid, prairie lily and button blazingstar.
It features an observation deck and multiuse trail providing access to a 360-degree view of a dramatic landscape that has been undergoing restoration for more than 10 years, as well as of Lake Michigan and adjoining areas.