Liberty Prairie Nature Preserve
Oak Openings Nature Preserve

Location: Lake County northwest of Libertyville.

Owner/manager: Libertyville Township Open Space District.

From the southeast at the Interstate 94 (Tri-State Tollway) Highway 137 exit: Go west on Highway 137 (Buckley Road) five and a half miles to Highway 45 and turn right. Go north on Highway 45 one mile to the Oak Openings parking lot on the east side of the road across from the Prairie Crossing neighborhood. This parking lot is one third of a mile north of Casey Road and three quarters of a mile south of Route 120.

Free. No camping. Pets on leash (on the paths only).

Liberty Prairie Reserve is a large chunk of land between Libertyville and Grayslake in central Lake County that is under special conservation restrictions. Most of it is private and includes farmland, a golf course and a housing development. Public open space in the reserve contains three Illinois nature preserves.

The suburban housing development of Prairie Crossing in the west of the reserve represents something very unusual in the way of prairie restoration. Almost all of the houses here have some tallgrass prairie growing in their front yard. In most Chicago suburbs homeowners with a large patch of prairie for a front yard would likely incur the wrath of their neighbors as well as be in violation of various municipal codes. Here such eccentricity is encouraged. There are even a few brave souls who have replaced their entire front lawn with tallgrass prairie. Within the sensibly eccentric community of Prairie Crossing the bluegrass lawn is well on its way to becoming an endangered ecosystem.

Actually a tallgrass prairie presents a number of home owner advantages over the traditional bluegrass lawn. Water and fertilizer costs are much lower. The garden is perennial and pretty much naturally integrated into the landscape saving all those trips to Wal-Mart each spring to purchase packs of pansies and petunias. Finally, a homeowner’s annual lawn mowing obligations are potentially much simpler - a can of kerosene, a match and a dry day in March are all it takes.

Within the larger reserve two of the three nature preserves with prairie sections – Liberty Prairie and Oak Openings - technically do not have general public access but a long meandering pedestrian path skirts along the edges of both. In addition both nature preserves have workdays during the warmer months of the year. Access to the path is from a parking lot off Highway 45. From here the path goes east along the north edge of the Oak Openings Preserve. The path passes Oak Openings, turns south and after a mile crosses Casey Road. It then runs along the west and south edges of Liberty Prairie. There can be quite a few people using the section of the path along Oak Openings but the numbers thin out considerably at Liberty Prairie. Indeed Liberty Prairie may be as close to a wilderness experience as one is likely to find within the Chicago metro area.