Research shows walking benefits both the body and the mind, and the Northwest Indiana region is full of parks, trails and nature preserves that highlight the beauty and diverse landscape of the area. Throughout the summer in Home and Garden, the Times will highlight some of the best places to walk and enjoy the unique topography this region has to offer.
Standing at the end of the Plum Creek Greenway Trail's 250-foot long wooden bridge, a visitor may feel on top of the world.
Nearly 40 feet high and spanning a ravine, the bridge gives visitors a bird's eye view of surrounding trees that only wildlife sees.
"This is a really beautiful location and a good destination spot for a hike," said Bob Bryerton, a facility coordinator with the Forest Preserve District of Will County.
The bridge, located about 1.5 miles from either end of the trail, is just one of many spots at Goodenow Grove, a nature preserve that is part of the Forest Preserve District of Will County in Illinois.
Located between Beecher and Crete just across the Illinois/Indiana state line, the 891-acre preserve protects a variety of habitats, including forest, prairie, wetlands and a portion of Plum Creek.
Those visiting the reserve as walkers have the option of 1.77 miles of natural surface trail, half a mile of paved trail or a little over three miles of crushed limestone on the Plum Creek Greenway Trail.
"The trails wind through wooded and open field habitats and also have views of ponds and creeks, so each season brings new things to see," Bryerton said.
Visitors should keep their eyes open for several state-threatened or endangered animal species, such as the Kirtland's water snake, and several endangered plant species, such as the spotted coral-root orchid and ear-leafed foxglove.
Different times of the year provide visitors with new experiences at the preserve, Bryerton said.
"In the spring there are many woodland wildflowers to view, and it's a very active time in the preserve," he said. "Birds are arriving and staking out territory and making nests, and frogs are singing in the ponds."
Spring rains fill the creeks with water - providing many opportunities to see animals stop by to get a drink.
"In the summer, we have many nesting birds throughout the preserve that will sing or give you a quick look as you hike the trails," Bryerton said. "The bullfrogs are making their loud calls on Snapper Pond, and the Kingfisher and Green Herons can be seen around the ponds and creeks searching for a meal of a fish or frog."
Open field areas are great locations to catch a glimpse of butterflies during the summer, and hummingbirds can be spotted throughout the preserve, he said.
"In the fall, the woods and fields both have great color and provide a wonderful setting for walking or running," he said. "Acorns and hickory nuts are all over the preserve and animals like squirrel and deer can be seen searching them out."
Although the landscape is more bare in the winter, Bryerton said the bare limbs of trees provide structural interest.
"When it snows, getting out early will allow you to see many animal tracks, including turkey, deer, raccoon and others," he said.
The preserve also offers opportunities for bird watching, biking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, horseback riding, camping, sledding, ice skating and Geocaching.
The Plum Creek Nature Center, the visitor center for the Goodenow Grove Nature Preserve, features nature education opportunities for families and youth groups.
Goodenow Grove Nature Preserve is located at 27064 S. Dutton Road, Beecher, Ill. For a full listing of upcoming programs or for more information, call (708) 946-2216 or go to reconnectwithnature.org.