A 300-acre farm near Bull Valley, host of various natural and wildlife, as well as several miles of bridle trails, could soon be home to a nature park.
The Land Conservancy of McHenry County, a nonprofit working to protect the county’s natural areas, acquired the plot of land, called the Thompson Road Farm, earlier in March. The land amounts to almost 324 total acres and sits near the intersections of Thompson Road and North Fleming Road along Route 120.
The acquisition is the biggest in the non-profit’s history, said Lisa Haderlein, group’s executive director. The land had predominantly been home to private farms and horse riding trails dating back to the mid-20th century.
“Natural resources are at the heart of Bull Valley,” Haderlein said. “Being able to preserve this, … it anchors the whole character of the community.”
The project to turn the land into a park will be a multi-year one, Haderlein said, but the aim is to have at least some access to the land ready this year. It will be opened on a “limited basis” while the initial ecological restoration takes place, the group said in a news release this month.
Before it can be opened to the public, some work will need to be done. In its history, about half of the area was originally a wetland that was drained for farming. In the coming months and years, Haderlein said the goal will be to help the wetlands reestablish themselves.
The non-wetland area on higher ground will be turned into more of a prairie area, she said. An oak woodland area on the property will also be cleaned out to help make the area healthier for the trees, she said.
Putting it together, signage marking the area, and spots for viewing and parking are all parts of the plan, she said.
“It should be really great for bird-watching,” Haderlein said. “It’s such a nice, big, open area.”
Describing the land, Bull Valley Village President Emily Berendt said the area is more than just a farming area. With undulating hills and valleys and natural views, it’s home to a variety of birds and other life, she said.
Some of that includes owls, hawks, groundhogs, foxes, redwing blackbirds and deer, to name a few, Berendt said.
“You’re not talking just … flat row crops,” she said. “It’s alive. … It’s a beautiful, peaceful place.”
In addition to the landscape, five miles of bridle trail have been on the property for several decades, Haderlein said. One of the goals will be to open those trails to the public for a variety of uses, including horse riding, hiking and cross-country skiing, she said.
Those trails are run through the Bull Valley Riding Club. President Patrick Skvoretz said the land is special to his organization, as the club itself was founded there in 1963.
The club runs about 50 miles total of trails through Bull Valley, five of them on the 300 acres. As a result, what happened with the land was of significant interest to the club, Skvoretz said.
“When the property was put on the market in the fall of 2020, several of us organized around trying to … save this property from development,” he said.
With its preservation secured, the land will be added formally to Bull Valley’s park system. Berendt said the village has a long history of resource protection and this project reaffirms that goal.
The $2.25 million acquisition was an effort of the Thompson Road Farm Project, a nonprofit made up of several people and groups, including local residents, the Land Conservancy of McHenry County, the village of Bull Valley, and the Bull Valley Riding Club, Haderlein said.
Leading up to the purchase, the group had been scouring for sources of revenue to help fund the acquisition, be it through loans, grants or donations, she said.
“We’ve been working with them for about 18 months, and we’ve been slowly pecking away at this,” Haderlein said. “It’s not quite real yet.”
With maintaining such a large plot of land comes its challenges. One thing Haderlein said she worries about is being able to fight back invasive species. Plants, such as reed canary grass or giant reed, can expand if care isn’t taken, she said.
“They’re everywhere,” she said. “That’s the thing I worry about – if we will have the resources to keep those things in check.”
To pull it off, Berendt said the group has to be ready to get to work.
”Acquiring it is the first step, the real work begins now,” she said.