Trails: (numerous)
Hike Location: Spring Valley Nature Center and Heritage FarmGeographic Location: Schaumburg, ILLength: 2.1 milesDifficulty: 1/10 (Easy)Last Hiked: May 2019Overview: A nearly flat loop exploring all points of interest in the nature center.Center Information: Route Map:
Directions to the trailhead: On the west side of Chicago, take I-290 to SR 72 (exit 1B). Exit and go west on SR 72. Drive SR 72 west 0.7 miles to Meacham Road and turn left on Meacham Rd. Drive Meacham Rd. south 0.7 miles to Schaumburg Road and turn right on Schaumburg Rd. The signed entrance for Spring Valley Nature Center is 0.3 miles ahead on the left. Park in the large concrete lot that is located at this entrance.
The hike: Established in 1983 as a living history museum, Spring Valley Nature Center and Heritage Farm protects 135 acres of forest and prairie in suburban Chicago. The site is named for the abundance of springs that flowed in this area until the 1950’s, when quarrying operations gone amiss accidentally but permanently diverted all of the springs’ water. The site’s centerpiece is the Volkening Heritage Farm, a re-creation of a Schaumburg German-style farm that features livestock, crops, equipment, and furnishings from the 1880’s. The Center is owned and maintained by the City of Schaumburg, and it represents a great resource for the people of Chicagoland. In addition to the Heritage Farm, the site features a playground, the 1920’s era Merkle Log Cabin, and the Vera Meineke Nature Center, which contains some nice exhibits about local flora and fauna. For hikers, Spring Valley Nature Center and Heritage Farm offers 3 miles of nearly flat hiking trails. Many routes are possible through the Center’s trails, but the route described here takes you to every major point of interest while doing minimal retracing of steps.

Trailhead behind Nature Center

From the parking lot, walk through the Vera Meineke Nature Center building (or around it if it is closed) and walk past an old silo that has been transformed into an observation tower. Metal spiral steps inside the silo take you to the top of the tower, which provides a nice birds-eye view of the property. The Center’s main trailhead is located near the southwest corner of the Nature Center building, and 4 trails start here. This hike starts on the asphalt trail that exits at a soft angle to the left. This trail forms an oval-shaped loop around a prairie area, and the Center’s Illinois Habitats Trail also starts on this route. After walking 1/3 of the way around the oval, turn left to leave the asphalt trail and cross a boardwalk over a wet area. A grass/mulch trail forms a small loop beside this wetland. At 0.3 miles, you reach a floating dock that overlooks tranquil Merkle Pond. I saw a blue heron and several turtles in this pond when I came here on a late afternoon in mid-May.

Merkle Pond

Continuing around the wetland loop, quickly you reach another asphalt trail, where you need to turn left to continue this hike. This asphalt trail heads due west and crosses a service road for the Merkle Log Cabin before reaching the Illinois Heritage Grove. True to its name, the Illinois Heritage Grove is a collection of trees that are native to Illinois. Interpretive signs help you identify the various trees. Exit the grove to the left (south) via a mulch trail. The mulch trail heads south through a narrow strip of woods with the West Branch of Salt Creek on your right and the Merkle Log Cabin service road on your left. A boardwalk provides a nice view of the gurgling creek.

West Branch of Salt Creek

At 0.6 miles, you reach a complicated but well-signed trail intersection. This hike will eventually turn right to head for the Volkening Heritage Farm, but first turn left and walk a short distance downhill to reach the Merkle Log Cabin. The cabin and pond are named for Frank Merkle, who purchased this land in the late 1930’s. The cabin features some high-end log construction, and it occupies a shady scenic spot along the shore of Merkle Pond. This spot could be in remote northern Michigan or Minnesota were it not for noise from nearby highways and O’Hare airport.

Merkle Log Cabin

Back at the complicated trail intersection, continue west to cross Salt Creek and quickly reach the Volkening Heritage Farm. The farm comes complete with a large red barn, a homestead featuring German-language signage, and live cows. Walk through the north end of the farm and follow signs for the Plum Grove Road parking area.

Barn at Volkening Heritage Farm

Homestead at Volkening Heritage Farm

Just past 1 mile, you approach the Plum Grove Road parking area. Angle left to begin the mulch trail that leads to Bob Link Arboretum. Virginia bluebells bloomed beside this path on my hike. At 1.25 miles, you reach Bob Link Arboretum, a grassy area dotted by trees and shrubs. Turn right to begin the loop around the arboretum.

Bob Link Arboretum

Stay right where side trails exit left to short-cut the loop, but avoid narrow trails that exit right and lead to private property to the south. At the east end of the arboretum, turn right to exit the arboretum and head into a large prairie area. This area was rather dull on my mid-May visit but should feature nice prairie wildflowers in late summer. Where the dirt trail intersects a paved road, turn right on the paved road to head back to the Schaumburg Road parking area. The sunny paved road passes a Play Pocket, a small play area for kids that features natural items such as logs and stones, before returning you to the parking area to complete the hike.