The Forest Preserve District of Will County now owns the 33-acre Hidden Oaks Nature Center and Hidden Lakes Trout Farm in Bolingbrook.
The purchase was finalized on Feb. 10. The nature center and lake site are located immediately south of the Forest Preserve’s 249-acre Whalon Lake preserve. A DuPage River Trail boardwalk, completed in 2015, connects the two locations.
The acquisition will have a tremendous impact on what the Forest Preserve District can offer residents in northern Will County, and it creates a unique opportunity to serve a more populated area, said Ralph Schultz, the Forest Preserve District’s executive director.
“When combined, the Hidden Oaks Nature Center, Hidden Lakes Trout Farm, Whalon Lake preserve and the DuPage River Trail will provide dozens of program opportunities,” Schultz added. “Almost all our programs and events are free to the public and we’re thrilled at the chance to bring additional programming closer to home for the residents of Bolingbrook and surrounding communities.”
The Forest Preserve bought the site from the Bolingbrook Park District, which was looking for ways to reduce its debt. The sale of the site guarantees that it will be preserved and kept open for public use by a larger organization that has more resources and is expert in environmental education and conservation, said Park District Executive Director Ron Oestreich.
The purchase price approved by the Forest Preserve District’s Board was $2.7 million, payable in three installments. The money is coming from the Forest Preserve’s reserve fund.
Hidden Oaks Nature Center, located at 419 Trout Farm Road, is around 7,000 square feet. It serves as a central access area to local and regional trail systems, and it features a large pavilion with a fireplace, an outdoor amphitheater, a green roof and historical and nature exhibits.
Hidden Lakes Trout Farm consists of four fishing ponds, which are adjacent to the east branch of the DuPage River, and a portion of the DuPage River Trail. The existing bait shop was demolished by the Park District and a larger bait shop/concessions stand is being built by the Forest Preserve.
In addition to bait shop construction, the Forest Preserve will reconfigure the interior space at Hidden Oaks in the coming months and years to include a larger exhibit gallery, a new reception area and a larger rental space upstairs. The site also will get additional parking, new signage and new campus exhibits.
The nature center and lake site will reopen this summer. The lakes will be free to use, but anglers will have to have state fishing licenses. Fishing derbies will continue in partnership with the Park District. The Forest Preserve’s purchase does not include James S. Boan Woods and its shelter or the community garden, which will continue to be owned by the Park District.
For more information on the Forest Preserve District of Will County, visit ReconnectWithNature.org.