Acquired in 1970 by the LaSalle County Conservation District, the 333-acre Catlin Park (open May-October) is a mix of bluff land oak-hickory forest, chinquapin oak savanna, maple-basswood dominated steep ravines, and tallgrass prairie habitats. Cottonwood, sycamore, and hackberry dominate the bottomland forests. Ash, basswood, and black cherry dot the landscape. These trees produce a cornucopia of nuts and fruits; provide nest sites for woodpeckers, owls, squirrels, and other cavity nesters; and offer food and shelter to migrating and resident songbirds. The chinquapin oak savanna is the most ecologically significant; once a large part of Illinois, now less than one hundredth of one percent remains. This open forest is great habitat for woodpeckers and raptors. Barred Owls, Great Horned Owls, Coopers Hawks, Sharp Shinned Hawks, Merlins, and the occasional Bald Eagle are seen along the bluff tops. Pileated, Red-headed, Red-bellied, and Downy Woodpeckers abound. The parks well-organized trail system hosts 14 distinct trails plus numerous connector trails. These trails travel throughout the parks diverse habitats, passing ponds and streams, climbing hills and traversing prairies. One could drive the perimeter looking for birds, but a hike on any one of the trails will reveal more woodland warblers, Ovenbirds, and Northern Waterthrush.
About one-third of Catlin County Park is leased to a local farmer. Some of this acreage has proved marginal for growing crops due to intensive deer browsing. The innovative Conservation Reserve Program pays the farmer to not farm this land. Instead, these 20 acres have been planted with native prairie bunchgrasses and wildflowers, restoring habitat for ring-necked pheasants and other grassland species.
The park offers picnic shelters and restrooms, as well as extensive trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. The park’s horse trails are also recognized as some of the best trails in the central area.