Chantelle is an avid hiker and bicycler, exploring forests, hiking paths and bike trails throughout Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin.
What is a quaking bog?
Volo bog started to form 12,000 years ago when the glaciers began to recede. As the glacier in Northern Illinois receded, blocks of ice broke off and were buried in the clay, sand and gravel of the area. As the climate warmed, these blocks of ice melted leaving depressions in the earth referred to as kettle-holes. Lakes, bogs, marshes and wetlands formed in the kettles.
Volo bog started out as a 50 acre lake. About 6,000 years ago the lake started to fill in with vegetation. A floating mat, primarily composed of sphagnum moss, grew around the edges. Though it looks like solid ground, if you were to step on it would "quake" because the sphagnum is floating on water. (It feels somewhat like a water bed.) As plants decomposed and died the mats thickened and grew.
The Interpretive Trail, or more commonly referred to as the floating island, is the most popular trail in the park. There are 5 distinct zones you will pass though before you reach what little open water is left from the original 50 acre lake.
As you step onto the trail it sways and feels somewhat like a floating dock. This the first zone known as the marsh zone. You can expect to see cattails, jewelweed, wool grass, water plantain, arrowhead, water dock and marsh skullcap. A wide variety of wildlife makes the marsh its home so look closely. Muskrats, voles, bullfrogs, dragonflies, painted turtles, downey woodpeckers, herons and ducks are just some of the inhabitants of the marsh area you can expect to see.
Tall Shrub Zone
As you continue along the walkway, you will enter the tall shrub zone. The predominant shrub in this area is the winterberry holly. Watch out for poison sumac as it can cause a rash worse than poison ivy. You'll also see dogwood and a variety of ferns including the marsh, sensitive, cinnamon and royal fern.
The mat in this zone of the bog is thicker and the trail does not sway as much. You are however, still on a mat of plants floating on water!
Continue along the path and you will reach the Tamaracks, pine trees that lose their needles each fall, and which can reach a height of up to 66 feet. The wood from the tree was used by the the Algonquin Indians to make snowshoes. The native people in Canada made poultices from the inner bark and used it to treat cuts, infected wounds, boils and hemorrhoids. The outer bark was used to treat arthritis and colds.
Sphagnum moss grows at the foot of the trees. Native Americans used the dried moss to line their cradle boards serving as a sort of absorptive "diaper". Soldiers in the 1700 and 1800's used the dried moss as a field dressing because moss produces acids that inhibit the growth of bacteria.
Low Shrub Zone
Entering the low shrub zone you can expect to see bog birch, little bog willow, hoary willow and leatherleaf. Initially, six species of orchids were recorded in Volo Bog with only one remaining - the Rose Pogonia. Keep an eye out for Indian Pipe, a white plant that lacks chlorophyll and gets its nutrients from the matter decaying just under the surface of the moss.
Ringing the open water area, one of the most interesting plants you will see is the pitcher plant. A carnivorous plant, the rim of the plant is slippery. When an insect, such as a fly, lands to sip the sweet nectar, it slips into the plant and drowns in a liquid pool inside the plant. This liquid slowly digests the fly absorbing the nutrients its body provides. I can personally attest that this will undoubtedly be any child's "most favorite things" on your hike. That and bouncing the whole group on the floating boardwalk by repeatedly jumping up and down.
This open water is what remains of the original 50 acre lake. Due to the lack of oxygen in the water and the high levels of acid release by the plants, if you were to accidentally fall in your body would not decompose. Scientists in Europe have found over 800 preserved bodies in peat soils. Their skin was like leather.
During the 1940's, a farm was adjacent to the bog. Legend has it that numerous cows and horses, having wandered off, fell into the bog and can be found in the black water at its bottom.
Extend Your Hike
The Interpretive Trail is only .5 miles, so for those of you who want to extend your hike, there are three additional trails: the Tamarack View Trail, the Deer Path Trail and the Prairie Ridge Trail. The trails are somewhat hilly. On your hike you'll pass through "Chipmunk Woods", an oak-hickory woodlands, a restored prairie and a savannah. Bring your bug spray if you don't want to get eaten alive. You will, however, get some good exercise while enjoying beautiful scenery and fresh, clean air.
The Visitor Center is housed in a restored barn from the early 1900's. A wide variety of programs are available for adults as well as kids. Saturdays and Sundays guided tours are available and I would highly recommend taking one. The guides are friendly and very knowledgeable and you will learn so much.
Picnic tables, clean restrooms and plenty of parking make it easy to spend the afternoon at the bog. There is also a lovely gift shop and an interactive display on the second floor where kids can learn all about the flora and fauna of the bog.
Bog Snorkeling - The Next Olympic Sport?
Now that you're a bona fide bog expert, why not put your talents to the test and enter the next Bog Snorkeling Championship in Wales? Initially held as a fundraiser for a local charity in 1985, bog snorkeling attracts about 200 entrants each. Goggles and flippers are required with many entrants wearing wet suits and costumes. Traditional swimming stokes are not allowed and the current record holder "swam" the 120 feet of trench in 1 minute and 22 seconds.
Thought You Knew It All? Here Are The Strangest Things Ever Found In A Bog
- Bog butter - wooden casks containing butter are often found in bogs.
- Murder weapons - believed to have been used during ritual sacrifices to torture their victims prior to death.
- Skulls with holes in them - speculated that these were victims possessed by spirits. Holes were often drilled into the skull in medieval times to release evil spirits.
- Hair gel - a body, dating to 300 bce with hair intact, was discovered to have a mixture of vegetable oil and pine resin covering its hair.
- A wheel- measuring 2.5 feet in diameter, a wheel was found in the Netherlands. Dating to 2700 bce, it is the oldest wheel ever found in Europe.
- Canoe - a canoe measuring nine feet long was found in a Dutch bog. Carbon dating places it as having been from 8500 bce.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2015 Chantelle Porter
Chantelle Porter (author) from Ann Arbor on August 17, 2015:
Thanks Megan and drbj. I'm not sure I'd ever bog snorkel but who knows? Maybe one day. It's really a neat place and free so if you're ever in the area you should stop by.
drbj and sherry from south Florida on August 17, 2015:
Thanks for the extraordinary introduction to Volo Bog - the place is fascinating and must attract many visitors.
Megan Solberg on August 17, 2015:
Very informative article! Bog snorkeling sounds like a bizarre adventure :)