Dark Sky Trail and Amenities

Project Overview In-Progress

Middle Fork is the largest preserve in Champaign County and is a popular camping and hiking destination. It also boasts some of darkest skies in the county, making conditions optimal for stargazing, and in 2018, was recognized as an International Dark Sky Park, the first and only in Illinois. Since then, Middle Fork River’s visitation has significantly increased.

Champaign County Forest Preserves staff have collaborated with local stargazing enthusiasts to make Middle Fork River Forest Preserve a stargazing destination. In 2022 the Forest Preserves was awarded $294,000 in grant funding by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) Open Space Land Acquisition and Development (OSLAD) Grant Program to support the construction of a dark sky trail and amenities. The Forest Preserve Friends Foundation raised additional funds for the project too.

Plans include constructing:

  • a mile-long dark sky trail with dark-sky-friendly lighting
  • trail nodes for stargazing
  • an observatory where visitors can set up their own telescopes
  • an open-air shelter
  • a small parking lot
  • adding 14 dark-sky friendly campsites
  • a nature play area

In addition to enhancing its stargazing amenities, these additions will help Champaign County Forest Preserve District meet the high demand for hiking trails and improve ADA accessibility.


Middle Fork River Forest Preserve, 3485 CR 2700E, Penfield, Illinois 61862

Start Date

March 2024

End Date

December 2024