If you're like many college students -- broke or gaining valuable experience at an unpaid internship -- or if you're just cutting corners because of the ongoing recession, nothing is more satisfying then exploring environmental locations within your hometown or home state ... for free.
LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve
is a tree hugger's paradise, but don't worry -- anyone can enjoy the history and natural surroundings of LeRoy. Not only is LeRoy a 264-acre preserve of prairie, wetlands and forest, but the previous farmland is home to an old relocated schoolhouse. Many St. Charles residents understand the appeal of LeRoy because it has hosted years of field trips for elementary through high school students.
As a St. Charles native, I had the experience of taking a field trip to the Pioneer Sholes Schoolhouse when I was in elementary school.
Many elementary students visit the historic schoolhouse, which was relocated to LeRoy during the 1970s, and pretend to live during those times to learn about the pioneer lifestyle. The schoolhouse, complete with his and her outhouses, is open for tours on Sundays in addition to the Durant-Peterson house that was built in the early 1840s. The two sites serve as great tourist attractions for families.
During high school, I had the pleasure of visiting LeRoy for a school field trip through my Regional and Environmental Science class. This time I explored the south side of the preserve where Horlock Hills Prairie is located. The prairie is home to many species of flowers such as shooting star and blue-eyed grass. Horlock Hills is a great place to learn about how prairie ecosystems work or for relaxing during a summer day at one of the covered picnic benches.
Beyond school groups, the preserve appeals to many people for its beautiful landscapes and rigorous bike paths.
The paved path starts at the prairie and winds its way through picnic areas, large trees and small streams before leaving the park. The path is open for horseback riding, which adds to the versatility and charm of the experience.
The bike path is one of the best ways to experience the preserve if you have never been there. It is not an entirely flat path, so this is for those who are looking for something a little more adventurous.
Adventure lovers will also enjoy the preserves' many dirt paths that have been worn down over time and have become favorite routes for hikers, who will see elm, maple and oak trees, and a multitude of bird species. If you go deep enough into the forest, you will run into a calm stream that is wide enough for swimming and has become a favorite spot for locals.
Located about one mile from downtown St. Charles, LeRoy Oakes is an amazing way to pass the summer days. It has everything an outdoor lover could ask for -- bikes paths, swimming, historical sites, picnic locations, horseback riding and scenic hideaway paths.
If you aren't into nature, or you just don't enjoy hiking, visit the preserve for its historical sites -- the Pioneer Sholes Schoolhouse, the Durant-Peterson house or the original red farm. If you are from Illinois or just visiting and you have not had a chance to visit LeRoy, take the opportunity to enjoy this environmentally friendly and free location.