Allerton Park, located in Monticello, Ill., is a lovely, extensive nature preserve that is relatively close to the University of Illinois campus. It has many different natural areas, including upland and lowland forests, prairies, meadows and a pond. It also has a fair amount of beautiful sculptures, as well as an old mansion near the pond. Allerton Park is one of my favorite places to go here, and it is beautiful no matter the season.
The mansion itself is a work of art, architechturally, and it is situated near several beautiful gardens, as well as greenhouses. There are many statues around the mansion, most of them along what is called a "Sculpture Walk." The Sculpture Walk is a path about a mile and a quarter long, and it extends from the formal garden into the west. When Robert Allerton (the founder of the park) was alive, he collected sculptures, and there are more than 100 of them in the park itself. The most famous one is at the end of the Sculpture Walk, and it is called the Sun Singer. (Another nice set of sculptures is the Foo Dog garden, pictured above.)
My favorite part of Allerton is the expanse of nature. There are many different natural areas in Allerton Park, as well as 14 miles of hiking trail to explore them with. The gardens are certainly beautiful, but the forest and prairie land are just as lovely. The upland and lowland forests here are some of the oldest in the area, some of the only places in central Illinois untouched by agriculture. There are still invasive species problems, such as garlic mustard and overpopulation of white-tailed deer, but this forest has not been altered much by humans. The forest also contains part of the Sangamon River, a river which flows through much of central Illinois. It is dammed in Decatur to form Decatur Lake.
Even though we are suffering through winter weather at the moment, Allerton still looks lovely in the snow. There are many animals who still roam around in the winter — you might catch a glimpse of one of them. If you live anywhere in the area, definitely give Allerton a try. It's worth your while.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons