James “Pate” Philip State Park: “Is that what nature smells like?”

When talking with family and friends about this project, one comment kept popping up. “There’s a state park in Bartlett?” Yes! A relatively small area off of Stearns Road and just east of Route 25, James “Pate” Philip State Park is completely unexpected.

The land was purchased in 1991 for the purpose of establishing a conservation area, and eventually a state park. Local politicians had expressed disappointment that Dupage county was one of the few counties that did not have a state park and used this as an opportunity to change that. In 2002, the visitor center was opened.

At about 40 minutes away, this is actually the closest State Park to us. The reason it isn’t well known even by people who live near Bartlett is because the focus right from the beginning has been restoration and conservation. There are no waterfalls, or interesting rock formations, or lakes to fish in. Before the 501 acres were purchased it was farmland for many years. And after the state acquired them, the land was reseeded with native plants. There were efforts to reintroduce some marshy areas as well, and these efforts are still ongoing. Today the park is a small prairie, full of tall grasses and wildflowers, with occasional cattails near the wetter areas,

Our day started with a trip to the visitor center. This center is pretty modern and well maintained. They have several tanks with frogs and snakes, including a kingsnake named Zeus. The walls are lined with displays of taxidermied birds and mammals. Everything here is a good representation of what can be seen out on the trail. This is definitely a good place for kids to come and learn about their local ecosystem and there was even a scout troop visiting while we were there. It’s also a surprisingly large building, having a front desk with a bell for assistance and several conference rooms.

We finally hit the trail, both of us bringing two water bottles and wearing lots of sunscreen because it was extremely hot the day we went. We would say if you are going to this park just for the trails and not for the visitor center, go on a day that is cooler or a day that is overcast. The entire park is prairie with almost no shade. There was no escaping the sun the day we went. We actually walked less than we planned because we were so warm, even with all the water we brought.

That being said if it hadn’t been so hot, this would have been our easiest walk so far. The entire trail system consists of three loops, all of which were wide, whitish gravel paths. There is almost no elevation, and the points where you can switch loops were marked and well defined. If your goal is to simply take a 2 mile walk outside, but don’t want to worry about trip hazards, you will absolutely find it here. 

The main loop is Bluestem trail, and that was the 2 mile trail we finished. We decided to skip Blazing Star Trail early on, partially because of the heat, but we could also see that part of the trail runs along a row of houses. The last trail was the Indigo Trail. Normally this would have been the one we went to first, but we knew the heat would be tough and opted to do the bigger trail first in case we wanted to cut our walk short. Sadly, this is exactly what we did.

The scenery of this park is basically wildflowers and tall grasses. The sheer quantity of flowers made parts of this walk smell really good, an unexpected but welcome benefit. In addition to the sight and smell of nature, you can see more of the outside world than we expected. The houses along Blazing Star are just one example. The Bartlett water tower is the most obvious thing, it can be seen everywhere in the park. We could also hear the cars going past on the main road and see the lights of a nearby football field. This is not the state park to go to if you want to completely disconnect.

After many pictures of flowers (Emma is finding that flowers are her favorite thing to photograph), we headed back to the visitor center to recover from the heat before heading to lunch. And after that, we went to Lynfred Winery in Roselle.

Lynfred is an award winning winery founded in 1979 by Fred and Lynn Koehler. They are well known as a world class operation, bringing in 100,000 visitors every year. If you know Cooper’s Hawk, a visit to this winery was the inspiration behind the restaurant chain. It was too hot to sit outside, so we ordered our wine and sat in the bar area. Stephanie got a flight of 3 white wines, and Emma got two whites and a red. We would both recommend the Vinoles.

In conclusion, this is a good place to go for an easy walk outside (as long as it is not super hot out) and if you live in the area, the visitor center is pretty neat, especially for kids. However, the scenery didn’t make us stop and explore like the other parks we’ve been to. If you’re going because you want to marvel at nature, a different park is probably a better choice. If you know what to expect, this is probably still worth your time.

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