Forest Faves: Warrenville Grove
The woodlands, picnic areas and shorelines of Warrenville Grove Forest Preserve in Warrenville have offered DuPage County residents a place to escape from the daily grind since 1923. Its rich history, beauty and numerous amenities are what make it a favorite of Jay Johnson, site manager of the District’s West Division.
Johnson’s favorite spot at Warrenville Grove is the old mill site, near the preserve’s Batavia Road parking lot. After a dam was built across the West Branch DuPage River to power a gristmill in 1847, the spot became a hub of activity for farmers and their families. By one account, the mill produced 3,000 bushels of feed and 1,200 bushels of rye flour during the month of January. Farmers from miles away brought their children to swim there while they waited in line at the mill, and the area became one of the best beach destinations for local families. The pond even served as a baptismal pool and sheep bath.
Over the decades the site housed two gristmills and a sawmill, each subject to repairs due to floods or ice damage. There were even fires in 1879 and 1897, the result of friction-generated heat from the gears’ nonstop operation. The mill lost in the ’97 disaster was the last, and 26 years later the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County purchased the land and surrounding 42 acres, making Warrenville Grove Forest Preserve a permanent recreational destination. Recent habitat-restoration work along the West Branch included the dam’s removal in 2012, but you can see the remnants of the dam’s limestone abutments from the 1930s and walk across the historic millrace as you listen to water gurgle over the re-created natural riffles.
Johnson said he loves the area because it has so much to offer: conservation, education and public recreation. The mill site now serves as a trailhead and launch and takeout area for canoeists and kayakers. Heading north on the river takes boaters to Blackwell Forest Preserve, while heading south on the river takes them to McDowell Grove Forest Preserve in Naperville.
Warrenville Grove has a 0.7-mile trail travels north from the Batavia Road parking lot through upland woodlands and natural fens to the Illinois Prairie Path ‒ Aurora Branch, which connects visitors to nearby Blackwell, St. James Farm, Herrick Lake and Danada forest preserves.
Warrenville Grove offers fishing and picnicking opportunities as well and is probably best known for its picturesque footbridge built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Johnson said his favorite time to visit Warrenville Grove is in the morning when “the wildlife is out, the cool air surrounds you, and all you hear is the river — not local road noise.” If you go, Johnson recommends checking out the large oak trees along the winding trail on the east side of the river.