Warm February leads to early opening for McHenry County Conservation District sites

Trails, bathrooms open more than a month ahead of schedule

Fawn Vincent, of Wonder Lake, talks with her daughter, Reese, of Nashville, as they walk through the forest during the McHenry County Conservation District’s annual Festival of the Sugar Maples on Monday, March 6, 2023, at Coral Woods Conservation Area in Marengo.

If the unseasonably warm temperatures have you itching to get out on a McHenry County Conservation District park trail, there is good news.

On Friday, the district announced all of its sites, restrooms and parking lots usually shuttered until April 1 are now open.

“Even though the overall pattern is warmer, we still have a shot to see several weeks of winter weather.”

—  National Weather Service Meteorologist Todd Kluber

“Visitors and residents love our outdoors and want access to our trails with the ability to use the restrooms on site or picnic in our shelters,” conservation district Executive Director Elizabeth Kessler said about the historically early opening date.

Many of the sites are open year-round, but through the winter, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are the focus – not trail hikes. If visitors want to hike those trails now, they can, she said.

There is a chance some facilities will close again, temporarily, if the springlike weather returns to winterish forms.

“We are not weather predictors nor are we Woodstock with the groundhog,” predicting an early spring, Kessler said. “But we have seen significant shifts in weather patterns and climate.”

If a blizzard does bring snow back this season, the district could shut its gates for a few days, Kessler said, noting that is not much different from a summer thunderstorm shutting down trails with fallen trees.

Todd Kluber, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service Chicago office, said while February has been warmer than average, there is no guarantee that will continue and cold could come back to visit.

“It doesn’t mean that we won’t have a mild March and April. It is a possibility, but technically we are still into the cold season,” Kluber said.

The weather service looks at weather a week out, not at long-term climate forecasts. That said, climate researchers continue to expect above-normal temperatures for at least a month out.

“Even though the overall pattern is warmer, we still have a shot to see several weeks of winter weather” even into April, Kluber said.

The lack of snow cover in both Illinois and its neighboring states to the east and west has also been a factor in the warmer weather, Kluber said. When winds come out of the northwest over snow, it chills the air. That is not happening now.

When there is no snow on the ground, temperatures in February can average around 40 degrees and with snow, 26 degrees, he said.

Kessler advised those who want to use the conservation district’s parks and trails to check the website, www.mccdistrict.org, for updates on what facilities may be closed, as well as for upcoming programs and other announcements.