VOLO BOG TRAIL SHUTDOWN: ‘Like visiting the Grand Canyon and not being able to get near the actual canyon’
While most of the Volo Bog State Natural Area in the northwest suburbs remains open and accessible for hiking and exploration, its namesake feature has been off limits and likely will be indefinitely.
“It is like visiting the Grand Canyon and not being able to get near the actual canyon or going to Yellowstone without getting near a geyser,” says Stacy Iwanicki, natural resources coordinator for education at the 1,500-acre nature reserve off Brandenburg Road west of U.S. 12 in Ingleside.
About two-thirds of the half-milelong interpretive boardwalk, which takes visitors through varied ecosystems and into the heart of the actual Volo Bog, has been closed since June. And there’s no timeline for when or even if it might be reopened.
“You come to the bog to see the bog, and you can’t get there,” said Greta Taylor, a conservation worker at Volo, which draws about 90,000 visitors a year and was designated a “national natural landmark” by the National Park Service in 1972 for its “exceptional value in illustrating the natural history of the United States.”
The newer, floating section of boardwalk is still open. But the stationary, wooden section, installed in the 1970s, isn’t. It’s being pulled apart by pressure from rising water and has been deemed unsafe. Structures to control water flow also are deficient.
The problems are beyond easy repair, according to Greg Kelly, site superintendent for Volo Bog and Moraine Hills State Park along the Fox River near McHenry.
The eye of Volo Bog is one of a kind in Illinois — a floating mat of sphagnum moss, cattails and sedges surrounding a small lake created thousands of years ago by a melting glacier and ringed by tamarack trees and other endangered plants.
It’s called a quaking bog because it shakes underfoot. And it’s the only one in Illinois surrounding open water.
“It’s a unique ecosystem,” Kelly says. “It’s the last one. This is it.”
Besides being a go-to spot for photographers, the bog provides an outdoor classroom and laboratory that about 144 guided school groups visit each year.
“It’s not a full experience,” Deborah Coolidge, who brought a fourthgrade class from Big Hollow Elementary School, says of the closed boardwalk. “All those different things kids just don’t know about — it’s really amazing. It’s sad it’s not available to us anymore.”
Replacing the boardwalk has been on the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ wish list for 20 years but hasn’t been funded, according to Kelly.
“We were always able to make Band-Aid repairs to keep the boardwalk passable,” he said.
The staff at the nature preserve has done an “excellent job of keeping the boardwalk open” until recently, but it needs to be replaced, says Rachel Torbert, deputy director of the Department of Natural Resources, which has been trying to find funding to replace the boardwalk.
But Torbert says, “The ecosystem which surrounds the boardwalk is very fragile, which means there are many environmental concerns which dictate timing and completion of the project.”
Kelly said he’d welcome a corporate sponsorship, estimating the cost of replacement at $700,000 to $1 million, in part because of the difficulty of getting materials to the area and the presence of five or more layers of timber walkways that date to the 1920s that have sunk into the bog and remain beneath the surface.
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The portion of the Volo Bog interpretive boardwalk (top) that leads to the eye of the bog (above, right) has been closed since June after being deemed unsafe.