A 1.7 mile looped hiking trail runs through restored prairie and woodland or just a short .5 mile looped from the parking lot to around the pond. An early morning parking lot near the entrance off Johnson Road was included for those who want to hike before 8 a.m.
The focal point of Winding Creek Conservation Area is the oak grove remnants. Restoration work in the months to come will work to re-create some of the woodlands to its original size. In addition the Conservation District will reseed former agriculture fields back to native landscape, conduct stream bank stabilization, and create an overall wildlife refuge south of Nippersink Creek. Winding Creek serves as a buffer from negative impacts from any future encroaching development for the high-quality creek. The continued preservation of this creek corridor is critical to maintaining the health and habitats of plant life and wildlife on-site and downstream. Moreover preservation efforts aid in the protection of the greater watershed and connected water bodies such as the Fox River.
Future improvements on the site may include adding additional nature trails and secondary loops, and potentially an elevated boardwalk system along the northern bank of Nippersink Creek.
In the early nineteenth century, this area known locally as Bailey’s Grove was 1,000 acres of nearly continuous woodland. As European American settlers built farms and homesteads in northern Illinois, groves such as this provided fuel, lumber and fence posts. By 1990, when acquisition of the site began, Baileys’ Grove had been reduced to approximately 150 acres of scattered timbered fragments interspersed with pastures and farm fields.
Like most properties in McHenry County, a majority of this site was used for agricultural production. Previous owners who resided here in 1970s and 1980s fondly referred to their place as Will-O-Wisp Farm. They documented that corn and soybeans grew on the property and prior to their arrival cows pastured in the woods. By 1973, when grazing ceased, young oaks reseeded themselves. In 1977 the former residents planted red and white 6” pine seedlings (west of the pond). Other land tales from this era tell of a wild plum tree (“perfect for making jelly”), an old red apple tree and a pear tree that grew near the homestead, as well as raspberries, blackberries, mulberries and strawberries that grew wild in the woods. Fox, bobcat, beaver, muskrat, deer chipmunks, skunks, squirrels and raccoon roamed the woods while duck, frogs, fish and turtles made use of the pond. During much of the tenure of Will-o-Wisp Farm the woods were included in the Illinois Conservation Department’s Acres for Wildlife program.