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New Map of Poplar Creek is Natural Wonderland

On Sunday, April 27, 2003, an orienteering event will be held on a new orienteering map at Shoe Factory Road Woods, in Hoffman Estates. This area is one of the most pristine orienteering areas in Chicago, because it covers both restored prairie and woodlands, and is part of the Poplar and Spring Creek Preserves which cover thousands of acres southwest of Barrington. This is a fair representation of how the land appeared to the original settlers of Chicago as they made their way across the prairie: wet, thick prairies interspersed with dense forests. Perhaps we'll see why Chicago quickly developed into a large lake and canal port....

The orienteering area is great habitat for animals and consists of dry prairie on a gravelly well-drained hill which slopes down to mesic prairie and finally to wetland communities. The preserve has 125 different species of native plants and, although most of the land was farmed for more than 100 years, there are surprisingly few exotic or invasive species.

The Poplar Creek Prairie Stewards have worked on the site since 1989, assisting with prescribed burns, reseeding and planting native species, and pulling out exotic and non-native plants. Back then, volunteers planted 8 miles of contour strips, 20 feet wide and 40 feet apart. Nearly a decade later, the strips are dense tall prairie, and the land between is starting to be recolonized by native plants as well.

Visitors will find native prairie plants such as wild false indigo, penstemon, seneca snakeroot, lead plant, blue eye grass, and many others. Coreopsis, coneflowers, prairie blazing star, and others make the prairie a feast of color during the summer. One may also find unusual plants like porcupine grass, which has long, needle-like seeds. Dropping to the soil, these seeds twist and bend in response to changes in humidity, literally corkscrewing themselves into the soil...or orienteers' socks.

In the lowland areas, volunteers are still removing drainage tiles to restore the natural marshes. In the oak woodland west of the parking lot, orienteers will find 300-year-old bur oaks with thick, cork-like, insulating bark that allowed them to withstand the flames of prairie fires and witness the passing of the Potawatomi indians and the large buffalo herds that used to roam the area.

Another benefit of the large size of the area is that certain grassland birds such as bobolinks and savanna sparrows, which require large areas to breed, find this prairie large enough for their needs.

Navigating the area: Poplar Creek itself flows east to west through the south part of the map. There is one usable foot-bridge across the creek, which is also crossable on the two Highway 19 bridges. There are also remnants of an old bridge with 4 or 5 girders remaining which span the creek—you can use this but it does take some balancing skill! Unless we have heavy rains, the creek is crossable at any point; be prepared for waist deep water in most spots.

The remainder of the area is good to fair running woods and semi-open fields. The area has a good trail system. The topography is subtle with a few shal-low reentrants, knolls and depressions. Ruins of old buildings and fences are evident in the south and "west sections of the map.

The southern section is all reclaimed farmland, with evidence of abandoned farm equipment scattered about. Other than wide trails the area has no interior roads or other development typical of most forest preserves. The area has been predominately used by horse riders. Until two years ago the private land south of Schaumburg Road was the site of several stables (that land is mostly residential now). A large abandoned house, named "The Clubhouse" is located in the southwest part of the map. The topography is very gentle rolling with a some interesting variety in the south and west sections.

Tips for running the courses: The Red and Green Course will cross Route 19 where the posted speed limit is 50 mph. The courses will be set so you can run along the road and pick your spot to cross. The two courses will also cross Poplar Creek; use good judgment since current flow and depth can increase without warning if we have had recent rains. If in doubt, divert to a mapped bridge to cross.

There are numerous ruined barbed wire fences and some are unmapped. If a fence is mapped as uncrossable (two hash marks) please do not attempt to climb or cross; look for the mapped gate or other openings. We wish to establish good relationships with our new Preserve hosts.

Brambles seem to be endemic to Chicago terrain. They seem to be the first plants to grow into old farm land. If you're not careful, the brambles here will grab and cut you, and in some cases not let you go!

The entire area is used by horseback riders. Please be courteous; we do not want to spook horse or riders into having an accident. Make your presence known when approach from the rear especially. You may need to slow down when passing horses.

A few tips for route selection are that, especially in the section of the map south of Route 19, there are numerous deer trails. These can get you through a thick area. No hard fast rule here, but these trails are numerous and we've left them unmapped...they're the mappers' own little secret. Look for them as you run for they can save you pain. The open fields are generally mapped as semi-open and difficult to run, but in early Spring many of these areas are generally good runnability and easier to get through than you might expect.

The area can be quite wet after a rain; many of the areas mapped as fields and small depressions can quickly turn into crossable marshes! The area along the banks of Popular Creek can turn into a very wet area if the weather is rainy. So be careful and select your route accordingly.

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