Rockford Park District
Helping People Enjoy Life!

Natural Areas

Natural Areas

The woods, wetlands, and prairies provide homes for wildlife, clean water/air, and recreation areas for people to enjoy nature's beauty. The Rockford Park District contains 1,561 acres of natural areas.

  • 189 acres of Floodplain Forest
  • 772 acres of Upland Forest
  • 112 acres of Park Savanna
  • 84 acres of Shrub
  • 110 acres of Prairie
  • 117 acres of Wetland
  • 35 acres of Open Water

Roughly 465 acres of these are considered remnant Natural Areas, including a 66-acre nature preserve. These sites have remained relatively intact, not drastically altered or degraded. These natural areas require maintenance and we use one or all of the following tools to keep these sites healthy:

  • Prescribed Burning –We implement fire as a tool in managing natural areas on days when weather and site conditions permit. Permits are obtained from state and local authorities.
  • Brush Removal –Invasive non-native brush has choked grasslands and forests. Staff use equipment and chainsaws to cut and remove these invaders to allow native plants to grow.
  • Herbicide Spraying – Weed infestations often require the use of chemical herbicides. Spraying will only be done by licensed operators and applicators on days when weather conditions are appropriate.
  • Mowing – Many weeds can be managed and maintained with mowing. Also first year prairie plantings will need to be mowed in order to prevent annual weeds from seeding and shading out the native seedlings.
  • Seed Collection – The District's existing natural areas are a great source for native plant seeds. Staff collect, dry, and mix hundreds of pounds, valued at thousands of dollars, of these seeds for use at other restoration projects in the District.
  • Seeding – Once brush clearing and weed removal has been completed many of the areas are replanted to a native seed mix suitable to the site.
  • Planting – Along with seeds, prairie plugs, potted trees, and nuts will also be used to restore and enhance these natural areas.



Guide to Natural Areas in Northern Illinois >

Guide to Illinois Native Plants >

Searls Park Prairie Nature Preserve

A remnant dry, mesic, wet prairie and wetland complex covering 66+ acres in Searls Park in NW Rockford. 66 acres were dedicated as an Illinois Nature Preserve in 1984. It is one of the best remaining examples of a black soil prairie in northern IL. Vegetation consists of little bluestem, prairie phlox, round headed bush clover, gentian, Indian grass, yellow coneflower, liatris, rattlesnake master, NJ tea, cord grass, blue joint grass, sawtooth sunflower, and tussock sedges. The preserve is home to 3 state listed threatened or endangered species of plants and many rare wetland and grassland birds.

Atwood Park Prairie and Woods

Atwood Park contains many different natural communities including: River, Floodplain Forest/Wetland, Upland Forest/Savanna, and Prairie. The Kishwaukee River bisects the park is considered one of the highest quality rivers in Northern Illinois with State Listed Black Sandshell mussels found in historic collections nearby and high diversity of pollution intolerant fish. The floodplain forest consists of cottonwood, silver maple, American elm, black walnut and box elder. The upland forest consists of mature hardwoods specifically oak sp., shagbark hickory, American elm, black cherry and maple sp. The prairie remnants (the largest of which is located on the southern portion of the Park) are classified as grade C and moderately to heavily disturbed. They contain big bluestem, Indian grass, little bluestem and side oats grama grasses and many prairie forbs including pale purple coneflower and gentians.


Hall Memorial Woods

40 acre Remnant Upland Forest dominated by native remnant hardwoods, shrubs and understory plants. Most of the timber is old growth dominated by red oaks, basswood, slippery elm, and black walnuts. White oak is more common on the drier sites. White ash, black cherry, shagbark hickory, yellow bud and butternut are also common throughout. Ironwood, choke cherry, hazel, arrow-wood, black haw, and dogwood comprise the shrub layer. The herbaceous flora is very rich consisting of nodding trillium, Dutchman’s breeches, wood phlox, wild geranium, wood anemone, and toothwort. Historically this site was considered for Nature Preserve Status and is one of the highest quality woodlands in the area.

Anna Page Conservation Forest: Wetland and Woods

Upland forest, wetland, and creek. Portions of the park are high quality remnant natural areas and due to its size and connection to Lockwood and Searls makes it a significant natural area for wildlife. The forests have diverse hardwoods with a shrub and ground layer of native plants. The wetland still contains remnant plants although it’s being taken over by reed canary grass.