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Saturday, July 2, 2022

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Bourbonnais Park Engages Community through Education, Preservation, and Recreation

Located outside of town on 4000 road, Willowhaven Nature Center is a bit off the beaten path compared to the other properties managed by the Bourbonnais Park District. Fishing, forests, and frisbee golf are just a few of the many things that attract locals to the park.

Facility Coordinator Nicole Jenkins gave some great insight into why a visit to this quiet local retreat is well worth the drive.

According to Jenkins, Willowhaven strives to abide by the Park District’s mission: to enrich the quality of life through education, preservation, and recreation. When it comes to visitors looking for an educational experience, the Nature Center is the place to go!

The Center is home to a variety of live animals and an assortment of educational taxidermies, as well as many reading and interactive resources.

The Park District also offers occasional educational and recreational events in the nature center. The preservation of nature is visible all over the park, which is home to prairies, woodlands, and ponds. The site is one of Kankakee County’s top birdwatching hotspots, hosting up to 240 species per year. True to its namesake, Willowhaven is full of willow trees that provide visitors ample opportunities to encounter viceroy butterflies (who utilize the trees for breeding) during the warm months. No matter the type of nature that interests you, Willowhaven is a great place to encounter it.

For visitors searching for a more leisurely experience, the park has recently added a disc golf course, an amphitheater, a picnic shelter, permanent cornhole boards, and a dog park. Two easy-access fishing piers offer year-round angling opportunities and excellent views of the park’s many resident waterfowl.

These new developments don’t mark the end of Willowhaven’s transformation. Jenkins informed me that invasive species control and new seed plantings are always happening in their established prairie plot. The eternal battle that exists between nature lovers and European honeysuckle is one Willowhaven is very familiar with as well. She also mentioned that the nature center requires maintenance and upgrades, so residents can expect improvements to be made in that structure in the future.

When asked about the possibility of expanding the prairie restoration to the front lot, Ms. Jenkins stated that the area was designated for water retention, making any restoration work difficult; however the original plan for the park included a prairie planting with a boardwalk and educational signage in that location. Due to state grant funding allocations, there is no current timeline for the development of that area of the park.

Jenkins encourages area residents who have not been out to see the park’s new improvements to come enjoy a relaxing walk and a visit to the free-of-charge nature center.

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