Hike - Picnic - Camp - Paddle - Fish
Visitors can trek on over six miles of looped nature trails. Favorite hikes include the one-mile trail around Lake Atwood or the 1.3-mile hiking trail that meanders through woodlands and along the picnic grove. During the winter when there is four inches of snow, two miles of trails are groomed for cross-country skiing. Pack a lunch and enjoy a picnic at a picnic table or for a larger gathering, reserve a picnic grove or shelter. Pitch a tent, gather around a campfire, and enjoy the starry skies at the group campground. Launch a canoe, kayak, paddle board or electric motorized rowboat on Lake Atwood for a leisurely paddle or to venture off the shoreline to go fishing.
The clear, deep waters of Lake Atwood (22 acres), Little Atwood Lake (2.5 acres), and West Lake (12 acres) are all popular fishing holes. Anglers of all ages can cast a line to try to catch bluegill, largemouth bass, channel catfish and rainbow trout. Lake Atwood is stocked annually prior to trout season, which opens the first Saturday in April. In addition, the District’s annual Hooked On Fishing event is also hosted at The Hollows in early June. Ice fishing is also allowed in the winter months when there is at least four inches of ice.
“The fishing at Lake Atwood in the McHenry County Conservation District’s The Hollows is a great place to take kids. The bluegills are everywhere but are on the small side. Use a redworm or waxworm on an ice fishing jig for best results. Catfish can be caught on stinkbait or a nightcrawler. Bass will hit a Yamamoto Senko or try a Rebel Pop-R on a windy day. Lake Atwood is also a no-minnows allowed lake.” Dave Kranz – Dave’s Bait & Tackle
The Hollows Conservation Area encompasses 478 acres and hosts an assortment of natural communities including sand prairie, wet silt loam prairie, and basin marsh habitats. Within its boundaries, 335 native wetland and woodland wildflowers, grasses, and plants can be spotted along the trails and around the campgrounds; these include little bluestem, rough blazing star, prairie dock, compass plant, golden Alexander, bird’s foot violet, spiderwort, trillium, horsetail and bottle gentian, as well as six state endangered and threatened plant species. This diverse mix of plant and animal life can be attributed to ongoing restoration efforts - combining a series of small, gravel- pit lakes to create larger lakes that provide better fish habitat; converting former dirt bike trails to passive hiking trails to allow for greater public access; and re seeding many acres with native plants to increase habitat diversity. Little by little pockets of native plants are thriving and are a testament to their own success story.
Prior to the arrival of settlers, the native American Indian population used the land to grow crops, provide herbal medications and hunt for food. The three Indian trails that cross this area are the Fox River Trail, the Great Chicago-Algonquin-Woodstock Trail, and the Waukegan-Belvidere Trail. Route 14 was originally the Indian trail that extended from Chicago to Madison, Wisconsin.
In the early 1830’s, European pioneers settled in McHenry County, and converted much of the land into farmland. Historical records show that in 1869 English immigrants Thomas Southwick and William Peak built a dairy farm on the land now referred to as The Hollows Conservation Area. Remnants of a house, barn and milk house were found on the land. In 1880, records show German immigrant and railroad foreman August Arps, rented the land to Edwin Kems and his brother George Kems and family. It is believed they sold cheese as several small cheese factories once existed in the area. It is suspected that the Kems could no longer create enough income and left the area in 1890. The home fell into absolute disrepair in the quiet woodlot.
In 1891, the Wisconsin Lime and Cement Co. purchased the land, and started mining the rocky soils for gravel. Though the land changed hands several times, first to the Consumers Company and finally to Vulcan Materials Corporation, gravel mining continued at the Hollows for forty years. The Lake is a result of mining the earth for clay, silt, and gravel. Mining was continuous from 1925 to 1955 and started up again from 1969 to 1974 to keep up with demand for sand and road building materials.
McHenry County Conservation District acquired 350 acre from Vulcan Materials Corporation in December of 1977 and began restoring the land and adding public amenities. The site officially opened for the public on October 2, 1983 and continues to be one of the District’s most popular sites.