Learn More About Kenyon Baller

Landscape and Stewardship 

Hiking trails at Kenyon-Baller Woods Preserve follow a descending series of plateaus representing a timestamp of restoration efforts. Each open pocket was a cool-season grass meadow used to graze cattle and harvest hay prior to ParkLands’ purchase in 2002. Starting in 2007, bottomland tree species such as sycamore, cottonwood, and walnut were planted in waves across the 33-acre river basin. The federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) funded 8 acres of upland tree plantings to the northeast of the basin in 2009, followed by more upland saplings added around the middle loop of trails in 2010.

Much of the Kenyon-Baller Woods Preserve is protected into perpetuity by a Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) permanent easement. CREP combines Federal, State and Local support to repurpose frequently flooded and environmentally sensitive farmland back to its natural state. This reduces sedimentation and agricultural runoff into the watershed while creating critical habitat for fish and wildlife.

The northeast corner of the preserve – the former Baller property - is ParkLands’ newest acquisition. Trails were recently established. Around 6 acres of CRP habitat exists in this section with another 7 acres of CRP bottomland tree plantings along Panther Creek planned for the spring of 2021.

Much of the Mackinaw River is identified by the Illinois Natural Areas Inventory (INAI) as a Category I or II stream for its ecological quality and significance of its natural communities. Panther Creek is also a categorized INAI stream. With the addition of the Baller tract, ParkLands is actively working with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to register Kenyon-Baller Woods as an Illinois Land and Water Reserve.


Frank Kenyon was a Woodford County dairy farmer for 40 years. He came from a long line of farmers; his great-great-grandfather, David Ames Kenyon, walked to Illinois from Vermont in 1836, and his descendants farmed there ever since. Frank, like most farmers, carried an intimate connection to his land, a connection that was only strengthened by its unique topography and Native American record. When he considered selling the property by the early 2000s, Frank knew he wanted his property in the hands of an environmental steward, especially in light of several recent residential developments in the area.

By the late 1990s, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) of Illinois had a significant presence in the Mackinaw watershed. TNC had just purchased the 700-acre Chinquapin Bluffs Natural Area in 1997 (now owned by ParkLands) and was working with local organizations and watershed residents to develop a formal watershed plan. Frank approached TNC about acquiring the property, but ParkLands was brought in as a better solution. With assistance from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, ParkLands agreed to a bargain purchase of 142 acres from Mr. Kenyon in 2002.

“I wanted it preserved’, historian Mark Wyman quotes Kenyon as saying after the sale to ParkLands. ‘There is not much of this left, and I want to see the old home place saved.” The property was christened the Franklin Kenyon Preserve.

Almost two decades later, Dr. Robert S. Baller, a Bloomington ophthalmologist, approached ParkLands about the sale of his 36 acres bordering Panther Creek along the northeast edge of Franklin Kenyon Preserve. ParkLands was attracted to both the location the ecological condition of Dr. Baller’s land. In 2019, ParkLands matched a grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation to fund the acquisition and jumpstart floodplain tree plantings. Today, the combined properties carry the name Kenyon-Baller Woods Preserve to honor both previous stewards.

A monument at the entrance to Kenyon-Baller Woods Preserve marks the former site of Bowling Green, a once-bustling village that served the intersection of early roads that merged in the area. Bowling Green was an occasional stop for then 8th Judicial Circuit traveling legal team that included Springfield lawyer Abraham Lincoln and Bloomington judge David Davis. As described by original ParkLands board member and Lincoln scholar Guy Fraker in his book Looking for Lincoln in Illinois:

“The lawyers traveled on a ridge to the southwest, along timbered Walnut Creek winding its way through Walnut Grove (Eureka), on to Versailles, and then descended to the still-existing ford with a now-long-gone grist mill and across the principal tributary of the Mackinaw River, Panther Creek. The road climbed up the bluff through the savannah to the town of Bowling Green, a thriving hamlet of homes, a mercantile establishment, and an inn.”

It was here in 1846 that 37-year old Lincoln is said to have debated Peter Cartwright, a fiery 62-year old Methodist circuit preacher against whom Lincoln was running for congress (and won). Bowling Green was also the site of a distillery and the township’s first schoolhouse. Not long after Lincoln’s stays, the arrival of the Illinois Central Railroad drew Bowling Green residents and merchants to the town to Kappa. Fraker points out that the well of the inn in which Lincoln slept and a small graveyard are all that remain of Bowling Green today.

ParkLands Hayes Woods Preserve is less than 0.5 miles to the south of Kenyon-Baller Woods Preserve.  Also nearby are ParkLands’  Ridgetop Hill Prairie Nature Preserve and Letcher Basin Land and Water Reserve.