Learn More About Hayes Woods

Landscape and Stewardship

The Hayes Woods Preserve is defined by the steep woodland ravines that dominate this section of the Mackinaw River valley. This region’s signature bluffs are those of the Eureka end moraine created during Illinois’ last glacial period 10-20,000 years ago. The ravines give way to an expansive river bottom, creating a serene, shallow approach to the river’s banks.

Hiking at the Hayes Wood consists of 2-mile perimeter loop that drops from the parking lot into an expansive river bottom. While most of the trail would be considered an easy gradient, a noticeable elevation change into the river bottom may make it difficult for anyone with mobility challenges. Please be prepared for wet trails in the river bottom during the spring or after heavy rains.

As one of ParkLands’ newest preserves, we are still learning about what species call Hayes Woods home. If the diversity of nearby Letcher Basin Preserve and Ridgetop Hill Prairie Preserve are any indication, chances are we will uncover wildlife unique this site. Help us document species you observe by using the iNaturalist site.

Already, though, Hayes Woods is establishing itself as a hotspot to observe the spring warbler migration. Preliminary research has also found three bat species: eastern red bat, little brown bat and hoary bat. Perhaps most unique is a nearby Great Blue Heron nesting site, known as a rookery. Each spring, 20-30 pairs of these magnificent birds return to this site to build colonial nests in a single sycamore tree on a neighboring property near the river. It is important to give all wildlife respectable space, but especially so with nesting birds. A heron rookery is a special circumstance and they may choose to relocate if pressured, so please keep a distance.

Recent studies by Illinois Weslyan University biologists at Hayes Woods have shown strong mussel populations. In a 2018 study, 16 different mussel species were found here with the lampsilis genus being most common (plan pocketbook, fatmucket, yellow sandshell).

So far, stewardship has focused on removal of invasive species. A $10,000 grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation was used to jumpstart initial management priorities, including regrading the gravel parking lot, clearing the cabin site, and eradicating 10 acres of invasive honeysuckle in an effort to reopen a woodland savanna near the front of the preserve.

Hundreds of Osage orange trees have been “girdled” across the preserve. Girdling is management technique in which a shallow cut is made around the circumference of the lower trunk that eventually kills the tree but minimizes removal efforts and leaves a standing “snag” for birds, insects, and other wildlife.

Osage orange, also commonly known as hedge apple, are native to the southern United States and were planted heavily in this region beginning in the mid-19th century as a natural fence. Unfortunately, like many non-natives, they grow invasively here, and the same gnarly characteristics that made them effective livestock fences make them difficult to rid of. Removal of invasive species will be an ongoing effort at this site.

As a testament to this site’s potential, ParkLands is actively pursuing an Illinois Land and Water Reserve designation for this preserve.


The Hayes Woods Preserve was purchased from Richard Hayes in 2017 the assistance of grants from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation and the Grand Victoria Foundation's Vital Lands program. Prior to ParkLands ownership, the site was used primarily for recreation, whereby today’s trails were used for utility vehicles to access the river and a small cabin along the eastern border. The property was of particular interest to ParkLands due to its river frontage, established trails, and proximity to other ParkLands preserves.

“It is named Hayes Woods in honor of their excellent environmental stewardship over the years and their desire to keep it protected,” said ParkLands board member Angelo Capparella at the time of acquisition.