Sterne's Woods and Fen
Over the last 150 years, the rolling, wooded terrain known as Sterne's Woods and Fen has supported activities as varied as hunting, fishing, tree farming, gravel quarrying, and thoroughbred horse racing. At times, a pond, lake, and artesian well could be found here too.
The Crystal Lake Park District purchased 185-acre Sterne's Woods in 1986, and the preserve has been undergoing restoration ever since, beginning with extensive controlled burns led by Steve Byers of the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission. In 1994, a portion of the woods was designated as an Illinois Nature Preserve to recognize and further protect its unique biodiversity. Restoration work is now in the capable hands of volunteers and the Park District.
Fens are few in the Chicago area, but the preserve's 40 acres of wetlands include a fen, a marsh, and a sedge meadow. Combined with 140 acres of woods and a profusion of plant and forb species, Sterne's harbors an array of riches.
Fens require flowing water laden with calcium and other minerals such as magnesium. These conditions often occur in morainal areas such as Sterne's, where water percolates through calcium-rich sand and gravel dragged here by glaciers thousands of years ago. The water pools atop impermeable glacial drift and then bubbles back to the surface from below, creating the alkaline conditions favorable to fens.
There are hayrides in the fall through Sterne's Woods, as well as biking and cross-country skiing trails that avoid the fens. The 26-mile Prairie Trail, open all year for bikers and walkers, is due east of the nature preserve on Hillside Road. It winds north to the Wisconsin border and south to Algonquin, where it joins the longer Illinois Prairie Trail. Penny Lake borders Sterne's Woods on the west.
Sterne's Woods and Fen Restoration Project (update April 2015)
What’s Going On Here?
The Crystal Lake Park District and Illinois Nature Preserves Commission have started a project to restore how water flows through Sterne’s Fen. Only 175 acres of high quality gramanoid fen still exist in Illinois—30 acres of those are right here! Moist conditions are necessary for fen plants to survive. Over the years, the fen has started to dry out, due to erosion, the development of stream channels, and groundwater being absorbed by trees and un-derbrush. Without plants, the insects, birds and animals that depend on them begin to disappear.
Why Were Trees Removed?
Invasive and non-native trees remove a large amount of shallow groundwater out of the system, drying out the fen. This is especially true at the outer edges of the fen where the groundwater is discharged out of the gravel hillsides. The trees shade out the native herbaceous vegetation and contribute to bare ground and erosion.
What Will Happen to the Woods?
The woodlands and savannahs to the south of the fen will not be impacted by the project. We are com-mitted to saving and reforesting native oaks in our community. In the last three years, we have planted hundreds of oak seedlings at Veteran Acres, Sterne’s Woods, Lippold Park, Main Beach and many of the 41 parks throughout the district.
What is the Benefit?
Restoration of the fen will return biodiversity to the area, including rare and endangered plants, insects, birds and animals. These efforts will ensure that the fen is protected for decades to come.