The prairie story continues.
“Prairies are rare. The tallgrass prairies of the Midwest are rarer still. Prairies support an irreplaceable variety of grasses and wildflowers along with a few species of trees and shrubs. Prairies are also havens for butterflies and bees. Prairies are a vital rest stop and nesting site for migratory birds and other wildlife. Prairies also protect our water supply and give us fresh air. Now – prairies need human intervention to survive. The prairie story continues with you.”
The Byron Forest Preserve District is located on the rolling hills along the Rock River in Byron, Illinois. The many acres of prairie and woodlands provide a variety of things to do. Your entire family can enjoy the natural areas by walking the trails, playing on the playground, going horseback riding, playing a round of golf, viewing the stars at the Observatory, and overlooking the prairie from the 2,600 square foot deck at the Jarrett Prairie Center.
We pulled into the preserve district and didn’t realize how expansive the property was. The grounds were neatly cared for and the signs made it easy to drive the winding road that took us all the way to the top of the hill to the Jarrett Center. Once inside I was immediately impressed with the tall ceilings, natural light, and clean space. Mark Herman, the education superintendent, walked us through the exhibits and offered an informative history on the prairie and the museum.
Introducing the Jarrett Prairie Center
The Jarrett Prairie Center originally opened in 1991. It was constructed overlooking the 400 acre Jarrett Prairie Nature Preserve. The original 16,000 square foot building contained a small museum, meeting rooms and administrative offices. The newly renovated Jarett Prairie Center Museum was opened to the public in October of 2016 and now boasts amazing views of the Jarrett Prairie Nature Preserve and more than 4,000 square feet of new exhibits and hands-on learning opportunities for visitors of all ages.
Museum includes immersive theater and dioramas
It features many exhibits including an immersive theater that tells visitors about local prairie ecology, several large natural history and historical dioramas, fossil exhibits, prairie restoration information and a prairie agriculture exhibit that lets visitors design their own farm. Also included in the renovation is a 2,600 square foot wrap-around outdoor observation deck that enhances the already unique space.
The hands-on museum and exhibits serve as a resource to learn more about the rare prairie area and eco-tourism that helps promote an understanding of the importance of our natural lands in the Rock River region. The exhibits feature everything from historical dioramas that recreate what the prairie may have looked like far before our time to a wall mural featuring the Ogle County Prairie History that goes back all the way to 8,000 BC when the Rock River Valley become an important area for food, trade, and culture for prehistoric people.
Dating back 12,000 years, the “Moment in Time – Ice Age Byron” diorama features woolly mammoths walking the grounds and glacial rocks. They believe boulders were pushed here from Canada by glaciers and are unlike any naturally occurring rock on the surface of Illinois.
The museum's immersive theater features the beloved “wolf den” bur oak tree and explains the prairie in each season and the importance of prescribed burns and how it benefits the plants and wildlife. They also offer a variety of District Programs such as archery, fishing, camps, hunter safety, beekeeping workshops, hiking, homeschool classes, sky viewing, fossil hunt, canoeing, cross country skiing and many more.
Jarret Prairie Center hours
Admission to the Jarrett Prairie Center is completely free and is open to the public seven days a week. For more information about museum education programs or to set up a tour contact Mark Herman at 815-234-8535 ext. 217. If you are interested in renting the museum for private events please contact Raul Leon at 815-234-8535 ext. 200.
Monday, Wednesday, Friday: 8 am - 4:30 pm
Tuesday, Thursday: 8 am - 8 pm
Saturday: 9am - 4pm
Sunday: 9am - 4pm
Byron Forest Preserve - http://www.byronforestpreserve.com/
7993 North River Road
Look up and be amazed
The J. Weiskopf Observatory, located just a short distance from the Center, is available free of charge for special programs and public viewing of the night sky. It contains an 11" Celestron computer-guided, state-of-the-art telescope to see the planets, moon, and fainter objects in the sky.
J. Weiskopf Observatory Hours
Every Saturday from dark until 3 hours after dark
June through August
Every Tuesday from dark until 3 hours after dark
Tee off at the PrarieView Golf Club and Driving Range
Also located on the grounds is the PrairieView Golf Club, a public 18-hole, bent-grass, championship golf course. According to their website, this challenging course is rated 4 and features bent grass tees, greens, and fairways. PrairieView also offers a full-service practice facility, equipment rental, fully stocked pro shop, lessons, electric carts with GPS, and handicap services. The Prairie Grass Pub is open for relaxing with your friends after a round of golf. Facilities are also available for rental for weddings, corporate outings, and reunions.
New -- Indoor driving range
New this year is the PrairieFire Indoor Driving Range which means you’ll never have to put your clubs away for the winter again. Located on the driving range at the PrairieView Golf Club, PrairieFire offers a unique year-round golf entertainment experience. Powered by Toptracer technology, there are a variety of game modes that are fun for both golfers and non-golfers. With incredible Toptracer technology, comfortably heated hitting bays and a cozy clubhouse with a friendly bar and grill, PrairieFire Golf & Grill offers amazing entertainment for all.
Illinois Route 72 & German Church Road
Phone (815) 234-GOLF
See the 2018 Big Tree Champion for the State of Illinois
As we were speaking with Mark about the Prairie Center, he mentioned that located close by in the Bald Hill Prairie Preserve was the tallest tree in Illinois! This certainly wasn't something we wanted to pass up so we drove to the preserve which is a 160-acre natural area southwest of Byron. The preserve contains an open habitat consisting of original prairie, pasture grasses, large bur oaks and, of course, the largest tree in Illinois. This cottonwood tree was officially designated as the Big Tree Champion for the State of Illinois in 2018 and is 28.5 feet in circumference and 122 feet tall! Look closely at the bottom of the tree to see little ole' me at the base for size comparison.
Bald Hill Prairie Preserve
5502 N Silver Creek Rd
Mt Morris, IL 61054