Van Patten Woods was Lake County’s first forest preserve, created in 1961 with a 162-acre purchase. In the 1970s the abandoned gravel pit that is now Sterling Lake was acquired. Mined from the 1930s through the mid-1970s, this area was deeply scarred. Major restoration that took place between 1989 and 1993 resulted in the safe and clean preserve we enjoy today.
The preserve is named in honor of David Van Patten, President of the Lake County Forest Preserves in 1960. The former gravel pit was once known as Vulcan Lake. Following a "name-the-lake" contest, it was renamed Sterling Lake in honor of Sterling Township, the previous name for Newport Township.
The Natural Scene
The key natural feature here is the river and its adjacent floodplain, which serve as a refuge to many native species while providing flood control to Lake County residents. On higher ground to the river’s east, you can relax among native oak woodlands and planted pine groves. To the west, natural areas are being restored where the former gravel quarry had severely altered the land.
Main preserve entrance is on Route 173, east of Route 41. Second entrance is on Russell Road, east of Route 41.
Boat launch, picnic shelters: use main entrance, follow signs to Sterling Lake, park in first lot on the west side of the lake.
Horse trailer parking, Des Plaines River Trail mile marker "0": use second entrance, parking is on south side of Russell Road.
Model aircraft field, youth group campground: use second entrance, parking is on north side of the road. Permit is required for use of these areas.
Canoe launch: on south side of Russell Road, east of Route 41 and the Aircraft Field and Campground area.