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Fall Colors Starting To Peak At Northern Illinois' Newest Forest Preserve

If you are looking for a place to take in the fall colors, there's a new forest preserve in northern Illinois. The R. Robert Funderburg Forest Preserve has nearly 900 acres of property and approximately eight miles of trails. Inside the forest proper, there are oak, hickory, walnut and maple trees, and the leaves are just starting to glow with autumnal glory. You'll also find a quiet creek and an abundance of birds and other wildlife.

Mike Holan is the executive director for the Winnebago County Forest Preserves. He said the forest preserve was made possible by the Funderburg family and a $3 million grant from Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation.

Credit Connie Kuntz
It's open from 7:00 a.m. until a half hour after sunset and the address is 3927 S. Meridian Road in Rockford

"We would never have been able to afford this property without both of those groups," he said. "It was a vision from the Funderburg family to get this into the hands of the Forest Preserve and Clean Energy."

Holan said it took a little more than a year to get it ready for the public.

"We started the process back in July of 2019 and we purchased it on August 11," he said. "It was a lengthy process. A lot of things had to get straightened out, but it did happen and we're thrilled that it did."  

Outside the forest, the trails wind around more than 400 acres of soy and corn fields. 

"Over the next five years," Holan said, "those crop fields will eventually be turned into prairies and savannas." He explained that part of the grant requirements are to convert the crop fields.

And he said there are plans to link the trails with nearby forest preserves.

"We will connect the trails between Byron Forest Preserve and Funderburg as well as the trails that are in Severson Dells Nature Preserve," he explained. "So it'll be a pretty large land mass." 

The preserve also hosts a house, a barn and white fencing. Holan said the barn was renovated a few years ago by the previous owners, and they are looking for people to use it in other ways.

Credit Connie Kuntz
The horse barn and adjacent buildings.

"We are looking for a group that would be willing to use the barn and the adjacent buildings -- the house and the garage -- and take over the maintenance of those facilities," he said. "Any group that may have that ability to use that facility would be great." 

The forest preserve is perfect for a rustic day trip, but camping is not allowed and there are no public restrooms.

"We will eventually be installing one within the next year, probably within the next six months," Holan said. "As soon as staff has some time to do so."

Credit Connie Kuntz
Feel free to use the teeter totter, but the firepit and the cabin are off limits for now.

There is one picnic table, a teeter totter, and a firepit. A cabin and the firepit are off limits for now.

"We'd rather not use the firepit until we can make sure that it's structurally sound," Holan said. "We don't want to have fires left burning when nobody's around."

If you want to take in the breathtaking views of a frosty fall morning, the forest preserve opens at 7:00 a.m. If you prefer to end the day in a chilly gloaming, it closes a half hour after sunset. R. Robert Funderburg Forest Preserve is located at 3927 S. Meridian Road in Rockford.