VOLO BOG TRAIL SHUT­DOWN: ‘Like vis­it­ing the Grand Canyon and not be­ing able to get near the ac­tual canyon’

Chicago Sun-Times (Sunday) - - TOP NEWS - BY MICK ZAWISLAK Daily Her­ald

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.

For more sub­ur­ban news, turn to the Daily Her­ald at dai­ly­her­ald.com.

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP: JEFF KNOX/DAILY HER­ALD; ILLI­NOIS DE­PART­MENT OF NAT­U­RAL RE­SOURCES; PAUL VALADE/DAILY HER­ALD

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.

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