The 555 acre Ray Lake Forest Preserve, site of the former Ray Lake dairy farm, is now open to the public. The farm's signature sculpture has been refurbished and proudly welcomes visitors to the preserve.
The entrance is on Erhart Road north of Gilmer Road and west of Fremont Center Road. (From Fairfield Road, go east on Gilmer and then left - north - on Erhart. From Route 60, go west on Erhart past St. Mary's school, cross Fremont Center Road, and go north to the parking lot.)
The parking lot accommodates 25 vehicles and offers washroom and drinking facilities. It appears to have one of the new solar powered gates that open daily at 6 am.
The 2.4 mile blue trail loops the property, passing meadows and wetlands and traversing several small woodlots. The Fort Hill Trail (which begins at the Route 176/Fairfield intersection) follows the left side of the loop and will eventually head east to Fremont center Road and then over to the Lake County Fairground on Peterson Road. (Click to enlarge map.)
Halfway around the loop you'll find this intersection. The Ray Lake blue loop trail continues to the left, and on the right is the Ft. Hill Trail heading a half mile to the Gilmer Road underpass currently under construction. When the underpass is completed, visitors will also be able to park at the Gilmer parking lot (between Fairfield and Route 176) and walk the underpass to reach this intersection.
The trail utilizes three boardwalks to cross wetland areas. Squaw Creek is located on the southwest corner of the preserve.
A grass trail takes hikers on a .4 mile side loop around a wooded area, with a branch trail to the Fremont Elementary and Middle schools on Fremont Center Road
An observation area overlooking the wetlands and woods has a plaque announcing that the area "is in memory of Lucy Holman, nature lover and biking enthusiast, whose generosity helped to construct this trail." Fittingly, from this lookout I spotted a large buck 200 feet away at the tree line.
Thank you Lake County Forest Preserve District, for yet another wonderful preserve