Heritage Trail

Landmarks, 2.58642
Related Entities
Big Rock
Big Rock Visitor Station
East Woods
1998 created
Hikers will discover a variety of ecosystems on the Heritage Trail, which winds through the East Woods in The Morton Arboretum's northeast corner. The trail starts at the Big Rock Visitor Center, featuring parking, an open-air shelter, and interpretive panels. Volunteers helped develop the trail, which opened on September 20, 1998.

Designed to showcase pre-settlement landscapes, the Heritage Trail educates visitors how glaciers, indigenous people groups, and finally European settlers influenced the terrain. Much of the area was once covered by white oak woodlands, savannas, and prairies before settlers cleared the land for farming and lumber. In the 1840s, a settler named Perus Barney built a road to his sawmill north of the Heritage Trail area in what is now the Hidden Lake Forest Preserve. Many native oaks were likely transported along that road to the mill, allowing for non-native species to grow. Work began in 1994 to remove non-native plants like European buckthorn and Eurasian honeysuckle in order to create space for the red, white, and bur oaks that are indigenous to the area. The Arboretum continues to manage the land, using prescribed burns, selective plant removal, and native planting to reestablish the area's pre-settlement vegetation.

Volunteers contributed interpretive panels to guide visitors through the trail's different ecosystems as part of the 1998 Volunteer Giving Project. The trail is now a 1.11 mile loop that replaced the old Big Rock Trail, to which it was once connected. In addition to the oak woodlands, prairie savannas, and a marsh, hikers can also see the fourteen-ton granite Big Rock about a half-mile up the trail from the Big Rock Visitor Center.