Elizabeth Lake Nature Preserve Varga Archeological Site
345 acres | 1.7 miles of trail
Open Daily Sunrise to Sunset (Some sites are subject to Seasonal Closures or closures due to special circumstances).
11059 Lakeview Road, Richmond
Elizabeth Lake Nature Preserve Varga Archeological Site is a large, diverse wetland community composed of every different stage of high-quality wetland, including: graminoid fens, calcareous floating mats, graminoid bogs, marshes, low gradient creek, pond, lake, sedge meadow, wet prairie and dry Mesic savanna. The Illinois Natural Areas Inventory (INAI) identified Lake Elizabeth as the highest quality lake ecosystem remaining in McHenry County and one of the highest in Illinois.
Because of its wide range of habitats, Elizabeth Lake Nature Preserve Varga Archaeological Site has 29 species of native fish, at least 200 species of plant life, 55 species of birds, 15-20 butterfly species, and 20 state threatened and endangered species including Iowa darters, pugnose shiners, ospreys and black terns. Several different kinds of wildlife can be spotted, including white-tailed deer, raccoon, rabbit, muskrat, woodchuck, beaver, marsh wren, sora rail, green frog, smooth green snake and other small animals. The diverse wetlands are important for amphibian breeding and provide habitat for a variety of waterfowl, migrating birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects. A small woodland area exists on the south western portion of the preserve.
Nature Preserve Status
In 1985, 1998, and 1999, McHenry County Conservation District dedicated a total of 238 acres as an Illinois State nature preserve. Nature preserve status protects habitat for native plants, animals and natural communities by limiting access to the land to educational purposes, scientific research, and passive recreational enjoyment. Because of this protection, Elizabeth Lake allows the public unique access to high-quality natural resources that provide habitat for several threatened and endangered plant and animal species.
Ten to twenty thousand years ago, glaciers moved across the land, burying the Chicago area in 2,000 – 3,000 feet of ice. Visitors to Elizabeth Lake will notice evidence of this glacial movement in the landscape surrounding the lake and the lake itself. Elizabeth Lake is a kettle lake, a steep bowl shaped hole in the ground that was formed by a leftover chunk of melting ice and is now filled with meltwater and precipitation.
Archaeologists believe that small groups of Indians settled in temporary hunting camps on the land during warmer months of the year from as early as 12,000 B.C. – 1700 A.D. Artifacts such as arrowheads and pottery were found on the site during archaeological studies in 1974, 1994 and 2000.
Mary Ray, a native of England came to America in 1833 at age 17 and resided in what was to become known as “English Prairie” in Northern McHenry County. In 1837 she married Jonathan Ineson, also an early settler and had eight children in all, including the first set of twins born on the prairie. The girls were baptized Mary and Elizabeth. Both lakes were named after these girls, Lake Mary in Wisconsin and Lake Elizabeth, which extends from Wisconsin into Illinois.
Recent history suggests that the land was farmed before it was purchased by Richmond Hunt Club and used for recreational hunting, fishing and boating. McHenry County Conservation District purchased 120 acres with the help of the Nature Conservancy in 1981 and added parcels to the site in the years following.