RURAL PENFIELD — During the stay-at-home order due to the COVID-19 pandemic, one place where area residents could get back to nature while state and local parks were closed was Middle Fork River Forest Preserve.

State parks opened May 29, but local parks remain shut. Camping has been reopened at Middle Fork at 50 percent capacity. The beach and playground, however, remain closed.

River/creek at Middle Fork June 17

A river runs through it — or at least a creek — in the area south of the main park at Middle Fork River Forest Preserve.

Middle Fork Site Supervisor  Matt Kuntz said during the shutdown visitors have been able to do “basically everything you could have done in the past. You (could) still hike, bike and fish, and there is plenty of activities to do.”

When the state parks were closed, some may not have known Middle Fork was open.

Frog and butterfly

Nature abounds at Middle Fork River Forest Preserve

“It’s been kind of normal as of this time of year compared to any other year,” Kuntz said recently. “It is good to see people out and getting fresh air, but I expected more than we have gotten.”

Another portion of the park that remained open is the waterfowl area.

Mike Daab, director of operations and planning for Champaign County Forest Preserve District, said the waterfowl area gives people a chance to see more wildlife.

“Waterfowl are definitely a unique feature to Champaign County. We encourage people to go out there and see the different things we have to offer,” Daab said. “There are a huge variety of geese and ducks and many other birds that migrate in. We also have a great bit of seasonal wild flowers, native trees and other vegetation to check out.”

Daab said he hopes more people will find out about the waterfowl area and head out there.

“I don’t know how well known it is out there,” Daab said.

Daab said the nesting season ended earlier this month.

Although business is going on as usual for most of the park, there is one big difference.

“If we can offer to the public a chance to allow them to get out and get fresh air and see some beautiful scenery, we would be happy to do that,” Kuntz said. “Obviously we hope people practice the safe precautions and social distancing. But we are hoping to provide people a chance to stay active.”

rbirch@news-gazette.com