Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie
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  • 22 Recreation Then & Now

    A collage of the recreational activities occuring for Joliet Arsenal employees during WWII.

    Twenty thousand people worked at the Joliet Army Ammunition Plant at its peak workforce in the 1940’s. The arsenal provided jobs for people as far away as Joliet & Chicago.

    Built outside Wilmington were seven army type barracks with 28 one room & 28 two room apartments. A 200 unit trailer park and 500 homes were built by Federal public Housing Authority in Wilmington. Employees’ lives revolved around the arsenal. Even after work they socialized at the arsenal.

    The Arsenal included amenities like a swimming pool, hunting and fishing areas, 4 bowling alleys, theater, hospital, 275 seat cafeteria, ball diamonds, tennis courts, pistol range, and 2 newspapers. There were intramural sports teams formed by arsenal groups in softball, basketball, archery, and bowling.

    During the Arsenal era, recreation was more about athletic sports both indoor and outdoor.   Today, recreation on this same land has become more about connecting to the land. The seasonal pastime of hunting deer and turkey are very popular. Hunters enjoy communing with the land. Sometimes they are successful and leave with food for their table but not every day hunting ends in success. Hunting also helps keep white-tailed deer and turkey populations at sustainable numbers for the amount of open land at Midewin.  Hunting by bow is the predominant style of hunting permitted at Midewin. Although, there are several weekends for shotgun and muzzle loader hunting allowed by lottery through the state of Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Hunters must stay 150 yards away from trails and follow all state and federal regulations. During hunting season staying on trails is recommended and wearing orange is never a bad idea.

    Midewin currently has 34 miles of trails. Some of these trails are multi-use for hiking, bicycling, and horseback riding, while others are solely for hikers. No motorized vehicles are allowed for recreation here, although work vehicles are used to traverse this large space. Birding and photography are popular at Midewin, too. If enough snow settles on Midewin, hardy folks have been known to cross country ski or snowshoe. 

    Programs and events abound at Midewin. The history of the people who lived and worked on this land is important. Learn about the American Indians, the European settlers, and the Arsenal workers through programs. If natural science is more your speed there are many options to satisfy this need, too. Midewin offers programming for kids, families, and adults. We schedule outdoor programs for the warmer months and offer a lecture series inside in the winter months. Finally, the newest and biggest change is people visiting the bison pasture to try and get a glimpse of the recently introduced herd.

    Midewin is public land that is managed by the United States Forest Service.This land is held in trust for the American people by the federal government. The public are considered shareholders of the prairies, wetlands, savanna, and creeks that exist at Midewin.Come enjoy this land that belongs to you, the public.Connect to the land through recreation and the programs on history and nature.