The intersection of US Highway 20 and Coral Road was known as Coral Crossing and was the location of the post office and stagecoach stop. The stagecoach ran from Chicago to Galena from 1830–1851 until the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad began passenger service. By 1872 most of Coral Woods was divided into smaller 2–4 acre timber lots that provided fuel and building material for settlers. Fields were cleared for livestock grazing and hay production, which further fragmented the woodlands. In the 1920’s during prohibition, the remote “Wilcox” farm was disguised as a hog raising operation, although historic records refer to it as the hot spot for the manufacturing and distilling of alcohol where the spent mash was fed to over 180 hogs. It wasn’t until 1976 that the Conservation District began protecting the remaining oak woodlands through a series of land acquisitions. The site opened to the public in 1988.
Dominated by a core of century old red and white oaks, the environmental significance of Coral Woods is the protection of these diminishing oak woodlands. Coral Woods represents one of only eight oak groves which remain in McHenry County that contains 100 acres or more of continuous oak woodland. This 775-acre conservation area also boasts the county’s largest sugar maple grove where trees have stood for 80-100 years.
Coral Woods offers three trail systems. The Sugar Maple Loop trail is a short .4 mile walk off the parking lot. During the fall this trail displays an array of vibrant red, yellow, and orange colored leaves. For a longer trek, the 1.2 mile Nature Loop trail is known for its woodland wildflowers during the spring months. The 1.2 mile hiking/ski trail is another favorite. Visitors can hike through maples, oaks, and a grassy sloping field.
In the winter months when 4 inches of snow is present, 1.5 miles of trails are open for cross country skiing. Trails are not groomed but they are on relatively flat terrain, ideal for beginning skiers.
Picnic tables are located near the trail head for those who wish to enjoy a quiet picnic lunch surrounded by nature’s beauty. A picnic shelter with fireplace is located just off the Sugar Maple Loop trail and can accommodate up to 40 people. Reservations for the shelter can be made by calling the District’s main office.
Bird watching is popular at Coral Woods during migrations, as well as during the summer when many birds nest in the branches of the mature white oaks. Watch for the white-breasted nuthatch, northern flicker, red-eyed vireo, scarlet tanager, American goldfinch, indigo bunting, blue jay, robin, downy woodpecker, great-crested flycatcher and cedar waxwing.
Festival of the Sugar Maples is an annual event held in late winter of each year. The Native Americans called it “Sisibaskwat” or time of the melting snow, when the weather see-saws from cold winter nights to warm spring days. The warmer weather triggers a tree’s sap to flow up the trunk to feed new leaf buds. The Festival of the Sugar Maples is held annually over two weekends in late February and early March. The festival celebrates the cultural history of maple sugaring, teaches about the process of how sap is turned into maple syrup and demonstrates the improvements that have been made in maple sugar production. Over 40 trees are tapped for the event and free tours are given to local school groups and weekend visitors.