Willowbrook has a one-mile nature trail that provides an opportunity to learn about wildlife and the prairie, savanna, woodland and wetland habitats of the county. A half-mile outer loop and a shorter inner loop travel through 40 acres of restored habitats complete with interpretive signs and inviting benches.
Willowbrook Wildlife Center
Willowbrook Wildlife Center serves as a rehabilitation center for native and migratory wildlife, treating more than 9,600 animals a year. It is the only publicly funded wildlife rehabilitation facility in DuPage County and one of the few in northeastern Illinois to treat native and migratory birds. Visitors can look into the kitchen and nursery and see Willowbrook staff prepare specialized diets and care for baby animals, and view exhibits featuring fish, birds, toads, frogs and turtles. Young visitors can stop by the discovery area with games, puzzles, a puppet play station and other activities to explore.
Willowbrook offers educational programs throughout the year to individuals as well as school, youth, Scout and adult-community groups. For more information on programs and associated fees, contact Willowbrook at 630-942-6200.
Willowbrook’s butterfly garden showcases landscape ideas to attract butterflies and other wildlife species. Interpretive signs introduce necessary elements to provide suitable habitat including food, water and shelter. The area contains tagged plantings that are attractive to butterflies, and a sensory garden that abounds with sights, smells and textures. An educational display cabin features a butterfly life-cycle puzzle and play area and binoculars for a close-up view of nectaring butterflies and blooming plants.
Native wildlife with permanent disabilities are provided homes along Willowbrook’s outdoor exhibit trail. Residents include a bobcat, red-shouldered and red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures, owls, red foxes, groundhogs and raccoons. Willowbrook is also home to two state-threatened sandhill cranes. An enclosed wetland bird habitat along the nature trail houses the cranes and serves as a unique educational experience.
Willowbrook is made up of more than 100 feet of deposits left behind when the Wisconsin Glacier melted. Those deposits, part of the Valparaiso Moraine, give the preserve its contours and contain a mix of rock from the bottom Lake Michigan, chunks of Canadian Shield granite and samples from all points in between. Ancient stone spear points found at the preserve indicate that early hunters traversed the land in search of game.
The first land survey done of Willowbrook in the 1830s indicates the preserve was prairie and used by farmers for agriculture. Eventually, the land was bought by Al and Audrie Chase, who used it as a weekend and summer retreat from work at the Chicago Tribune. Willowbrook was established in 1956 after Audrie Chase donated 45 acres of land to the District in the first land donation in the District’s history. Chases asked that a portion of the land be preserved as a bird sanctuary and named Willow Brook. The preserve has since grown to a sanctuary for all injured wildlife complete with a full-time veterinarian and staff of experienced wildlife specialist, naturalists and volunteers.
In 1981, the District added a new education and treatment center and an outdoor exhibit area. In 1993, the site was officially renamed the Willowbrook Wildlife Center.