Kishwaukee Headwaters

153 acres | 1.75 miles of trail

Site Hours
Open Daily Sunrise to Sunset (Some sites are subject to Seasonal Closures or closures due to special circumstances).

US Highway 14 & Dean St, Woodstock

Trail Map

Visitors can enjoy the looped nature trail that transverses over a boardwalk, through wetland, sedge meadow and savanna communities. Take time to  enjoy a  picnic at the shelter that overlooking the diverse array of prairie plants and flowers, swaying in the breeze, as grassland birds, butterflies and dragonflies dart about.

As its name suggest, this site is part of the headwaters and watershed of the Kishwaukee River.  Beginning as a simple trickle or seep, the wetland communities of this site and the area directly to the north supply the initial surface flow of the Kishwaukee River.  (The Kishwaukee River is recognized as one of the most biologically rich river systems in Illinois and is characterized by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources as a biologically significant stream.) In 2005, the fields were harvested one last time and marked the transition from over 150 years of agricultural practice back to an ecologically sustainable prairie landscape.  Take a hike on the 1.75 miles of trail and check out this restored prairie.

The Kishwaukee Headwaters Conservation Area is the result of a cooperative effort from four separate entities sharing the same common goal of purchasing and setting aside of parcels for the creation of open space and protecting the upper watershed of the Kishwaukee River. The coop consists of the; McHenry County Conservation District, McHenry County Soil & Water Conservation District, Environmental Defenders of McHenry County and City of Woodstock. Through the purchases made by the 4 entities, 170 acres of unique natural communities, resources and environmental recreation are preserved and protected.

Plat maps dating back to the 1870’s along with aerial photographs from as early as the 1930’s show the changes and history of the site over the decades. Pre-settlement conditions of the Headwaters consisted of large blocks of oak dominated woodlands and prairie expanses along the higher portions of the site with the majority of the site composed of a large wetland complex. By 1872 the Headwaters site was receiving agricultural activity and timber clearing. By 1939 the wetland complex had been ditched for agricultural uses. Agricultural practices continued to expand to cover nearly every portion of the site by the 50’s and 60’s. In the early 60’s Route 14 was constructed, resulting in a separation of the fens and wetlands to the north from the large basin marsh and sedge meadow to the south. Eventually farming along the lower, wetter portions of the site were abandoned, leading to the invasion of adventive natives and exotic species along those disturbed areas.
Bordering the eastern boundary of the Headwaters site, there once operated for the better part of a century the Woodstock Landfill, originally as a privately owned dump before begin sold to the City of Woodstock. The landfill covered approximately 50 acres; now capped and a Superfund site.

Archaeological History

The term Kishwaukee is derived from the Pottawatomie word meaning “river of the sycamore”. The Kishwaukee River delineates the northern most range of the Sycamore, a tree species found along the river valleys and used by the Native Americans for dugout canoes.