Photo by A.Nyberg©TNC

For many, August is the back-to-school month. But learning doesn't have to take place in a classroom. Learning can take place anywhere, especially in the great out-of-doors. It's the way humans have learned for thousands of years, being outside seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling, even sometimes tasting the world around us.

Kankakee Sands offers many outdoor learning opportunities. We have three hiking trails, two overlook areas, and a driving tour for you to enjoy. The trail guides and driving tour are available online at

Let's start with an outdoor biology lesson. Want to see dragonflies, frogs, native hibiscus, and wetland plants such as sedges and rushes? Well then, the Wet Prairie Trail is the trail for you. As the name rightly implies, the trail is very wet during parts of the year, particularly in the spring and later winter. Shoes or boots that can get wet are a good idea for this 0.6 mile trail. The Wet Prairie Trail is open only during the spring and summer when the bison are not in this pasture.

For an outdoor history lesson, head to Conrad Station Savanna, at the northern end of Kankakee Sands. The interpretive signs along the trail describe the ghost town of Conrad, which thrived from 1905 to 1935, and the healthy savanna habitat that we are striving for at Conrad. You may see red-headed wood peckers, turkey, deer, ferns, and large black and white oaks. The 1.6-mile loop trail through this black oak savanna preserve is especially pleasant to walk in the spring because of the many types of wildflowers that grow at Conrad. It's also a nice place to hike on the hot days of summer because the trees provide a refuge from the heat and the summer sun.

For a science lesson, take a leisurely stroll on the Grace Teninga Discovery Trail. This 2-mile loop trail provides a fantastic vantage point overlooking the prairies of Kankakee Sands, with butterflies galore. This trail was named for Grace Teninga Vermillya (1916-2011), a farmer, teacher and scientist who loved sharing the natural world with her family and her students. Along this winding trail you will find 12 points of interest about the plants, animals and habitat described in the trail brochure available at the trailhead and online. There is also an informational sign about regal fritillary butterflies at the very top to the sand hill.

Love ornithology? Check out our Birding Overlook, a high point overlooking one of the wettest restoration plantings at Kankakee Sands. Here you are likely to see and hear a wide variety of waterfowl as well as grassland birds, including blue-winged teal, great blue herons, red-winged blackbirds and sedge wrens. Bring your binoculars and a chair. Sit and enjoy the sights and sounds of the birds around you. Consider bringing a small notebook with you to jot down or sketch the birds you are seeing and hearing.

If bison are your favorite subject, then make your way to the Bison Overlook Area. There you will find three informational signs about bison and their role on the prairie. Hike up the gravel path to the top of Bogus Island and perhaps you will be able to see the bison grazing on the prairie. In the months to come, we will be installing an informational sign about the famed Bogus Island and Beaver Lake, so stay tuned for more educational opportunities.

Here's a math problem for you to solve: When are three trails not three trails?...When they're at Kankakee Sands! Although we only have three trails, hiking the same trail during different times of the year allows you to see many more things and notice minute details and differences. The flowers change, the butterflies emerge, the light is different, the wind is from a new direction. Each day and each moment is a new one. In each moment, we can experience and learn something new.

Bring the little ones...the kids...the next generation with you when you come to Kankakee Sands. In nature, there are no rules on who the teacher must be. Often in life, the elders are the teachers and the youngsters are the students. But in nature, those roles are often reversed. When my son points out the bright yellow spider hiding in the petals of the sunflower and all the tiny insects crawling up and down the stem, or when my daughter has me smell each of the different flowers that we walk by so that we can decide which ones smells the best, I know that I am the student and they are the teachers. How grateful I am that my children are patient enough to re-open my eyes to this never ending, never-done-teaching world around me.

Come out to Kankakee Sands to experience, learn and enjoy. We'll be right there with you, experiencing, learning and enjoying.


The Nature Conservancy's Kankakee Sands is an 8,300-acre prairie and savanna habitat in Northwest Indiana, open every day of the year for public enjoyment. For more information about Kankakee Sands, visit