In 2018 Middle Fork River Forest Preserve was designated an International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association due to its exceptionally high-quality starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is protected for its scientific, natural, educational, and cultural heritage, as well as its public enjoyment. At the time it was one of 72 parks worldwide to hold that designation and the only one in Illinois.
Now, it’s still the only Dark Sky Park in Illinois, and the Champaign County Forest Preserve District (CCFPD) is making improvements that will enhance the dark sky viewing experience in the preserve. CCFPD received an Open Space Land Acquisition and Development (OSLAD) from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) in September 2022 to support the construction of a dark sky trail and supporting amenities at Middle Fork River Forest Preserve.
The trail will improve accessibility at Middle Fork River Forest Preserve by providing new, ADA-compliant campsites, paved trails, and accessible seating. The existing Harry L. Swartz campground has been a popular destination for many years. Nearly every weekend, all sites are fully booked.
The project will not only appeal to dark sky viewers, but will be popular among regular patrons of the Middle Fork River Forest Preserve. The trail will loop through the tall grass prairie at the preserve offering new educational and recreational opportunities. The nature playground will be a draw for campers and families visiting the preserve and the expanded campground will alleviate our peak demand issues and prevent the District from turning away campers.
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