Ribbon-cutting marks opening of Pickerill-Pigott Forest Preserve near Oswego

100-acre property south of Oswego features extensive trails, catch-and-release fishing pond, lookout and soon to be renovated Pickerill Estate House.

A day nearly 15 years in the making has finally come.

The Pickerill-Pigott Forest Preserve officially opened to the public Friday, June 4, marked by a ribbon-cutting ceremony and residents already beginning their weekends along the trails and greenery of the 100-acre property.

“There’s some really beautiful, beautiful spots out here that are very charming, diverse and beautiful, particularly in spring with the wildflower,” Dave Guritz, president of the Kendall County Forest Preserve District, said before the ribbon-cutting.

Located at 6350 Minkler Road south of Oswego, the new preserve features extensive trails, shelters, a catch-and-release fishing pond and stone lookout that sits atop the Oswego channel. But the crown jewel of the property is the Pickerill Estate House. Donated to the forest preserve district by the late Ken Pickerill in 2007, the two-story home will be converted into a community center during the coming year.

Forest district commissioners approved receipt of an $828,000 state grant for renovations June 1, which will help make the home compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and install a shelter and solar panels on the grounds.

Although renovations will alter its interior, today the extravagant residence still holds the charm of the 1970s: retro wallpaper, mustard-colored carpeting and lavish bathrooms.

“The property, it was the dream, I think, of Ken and Jackie Pickerill to make this into a nature center for the whole community,” forest district board President Judy Gilmour said before the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “So we’re just very pleased.”

Ken Pickerill, who died at age 91 in 2019, was a teacher, athletic director and coach at Oswego High School. Ken and Jacqueline Pickerill also owned and operated The Jacqueline Shop on Main Street in Oswego for nearly 40 years. Jacqueline Pickerill died in 2001.

The preserve also includes land bought from the Pigott family for $4.42 million, of which a maintenance shed still stands. In addition, the preserve was financed by a $316,500 Illinois Department of Natural Resources Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development Grant in 2018.

Forest district staff have toiled since 2017 to prepare the new preserve after the estate home was vacated.

Stefanie Wiencke, program manager for the district’s preschool, said she started working on prepping the estate home during the COVID-19 pandemic when classes were shut down.

“It’s been a great opportunity to work on new projects,” she said.

Other community members have lent a hand in making the preserve a reality. Nathan Wille, a 15-year-old Boy Scout who attends Oswego High School, built the grounds’ lookout shelter last year after approaching Guritz about potential projects in the forest district.

“It’s amazing,” Wille said. “It’s a great forest preserve.”

With Phase 1 of developing the forest complete, officials say Phase 2 will begin this fall when renovations begin on the estate home.

“We’ve been working hard the last couple of years getting basically two residential estates and converting that into a forest preserve,” Guritz said. “I’ve got wonderful district staff here. ... we’re just so excited to see this finally come to pass.”

Lucas Robinson

Lucas Robinson covers politics, courts, schools and the pandemic in Kendall County and Yorkville for Shaw Media. His work has previously appeared in the Chicago Reader, the Buenos Aires Times, Open Secrets and USAToday. He grew up in Muncie, Indiana.