For the start of October, we decided to do something a little different. We wanted to go to St. Julian Winery in Michigan to celebrate friendship (and also maybe Emma’s birthday). We’d been talking about going for a couple years, but it had been put to the back burner because of the pandemic. And, since it was to celebrate, we actually brought our high school friend group with us. Working backward from our winery choice, we picked William W. Powers State Recreation Area. This is the only park in Chicago, located on the far southeast side on the Illinois/Indiana border.
The main attraction at this park is Wolf Lake. It dominates the space, there is far more water than land. In fact, the park is only 624 acres, and over 400 of them are covered by water. The day we went, the park was hosting a youth fishing derby, and plenty of kids were participating. There were also a lot of volunteers helping out, and they were all excited to share information on the area with us.
The state acquired the original land in 1947, and it was called Wolf Lake recreation center. The name was changed in 1965 to honor William Powers, a former alderman who advocated for the neighborhood and used the site during his time in office. There is also a defunct missile on display, highlighting the military history from the cold war era.
We had to take two cars, so we met up at the visitor center. This is relatively new, and gives a pretty good snapshot of the history and geography of Wolf Lake. They even had a live bird to go with their display about invasive species.
There is no real trail system at this park. In lieu of this, we decided to just walk along the lake. But even without a trail, the park is distinctly separated into two different areas: the entrance with visitor center, picnic pavilions, playground, and missile monument; and the more forested part that leads to railroad tracks and the state border. The lake is also split into several pools by the railroad, the border road, and by two dikes. At the base of the second dike is a boat launch, and there actually were people going out that day. This is also where the most trail-like part of our hike was, running north along the lake until it reaches the main road. Across the lake are views of I-90, as well as old steel mills and other industry buildings.
The nature in this park is pretty good. One of us spotted a garter snake, but it slithered away from us before we could take a photo. We also saw a couple of deer in the forest, which we were able to photograph, but it was just a little too dark, and we couldn’t get closer without spooking them.
The one thing we both noticed were remnants of a path that used to be there, bits of pavement, broken up by dirt and grass. It felt similar to when you explore old buildings, proof of a long history that now you are part of in a small way. This feeling persists as you walk along the lake, until you reach the railroad tracks that run through the park. We don’t know if these specific tracks were still in use. It wouldn’t be surprising if they were, but there weren’t any signals to give warning. Either way, this was a good spot for a few more photos.
Finally, we walked just past the tracks to the road along the Indiana border. The road itself is entirely within Illinois, however the lake to your left while walking south is in Indiana. It is a little weird to be able to see a different state right in front of you, but not be able to go there without getting wet.
This road looks like it should go all the way around the lake and loop back to the visitor center, but unfortunately there is not. This is probably the biggest complaint we had about the park. It seemed like extending the road to make it connect to the road on the other side was in the works, but we were forced to turn around and go back the way we came.
Instead of going back along the lake, we followed the main road back to the car. There is apparently an overlook that we could have walked to, but we were getting hungry and wanted to get to Michigan as quickly as possible. After seeing a fuzzy caterpillar, and both of us tripping on the same pothole (we’re both fine) we got back to the car.
An hour later we got to Michigan, and after a quick lunch we finally got to St. Julian. This winery is celebrating 100 years, and is one of the most awarded wineries in the state. All six of us got flights, making for a very impressive site with all the cups around the table. We would highly recommend the Chardonnay. All of us were very impressed, even those of us that don’t normally like Chardonnay. Overall, St. Julian is probably the most well known of the wineries or breweries we’ve been to, but there is good reason for that. If you haven’t been, it is definitely worth the drive out.
It was still a little early, so we went across the street to Round Barn Winery, where their flights are served in muffin tins! All the wines here were solid, but the standout was actually their black walnut cream, a liquor similar to Baileys.
State parks always have nature as a focal point, and William Powers SRA was no exception.. However, what was different was how prominent the history is. The influences of industry are everywhere, from the drive in, to the view across the lake. You can feel how much people have affected the area over the years, and they continue to come and enjoy the park today. We both liked this one more than we thought we would, and we hope that people don’t write it off just because it’s different from the other parks.