Description - *This information was provided by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources*
Chiseled out of the state’s far northern region is Rock Cut State Park in Winnebego County. Nearby are other "rocky" landmarks - the mighty Rock River and the place where wagons once forded it, Rockford. It’s an area of rolling plains, interesting history and recreational variety.
Two lakes set off the park’s 3,092 acres. Pierce Lake, with 162 acres, is a retreat for people wanting to fish, ice fish or ice skate. A second 50-acre Olson Lake is especially for swimmers. Rounding out the park’s recreational options are camping, hiking, horseback trails and cross-country skiing. Whatever the season, you can be sure there’s quite a bit of activity going on at Rock Cut State Park.
By the middle of the 17th century, Miami-speaking tribes of Native Americans entered the region of Rock Cut State Park after the Iroquois drove them from territory on the southern end of Lake Michigan. From about 1655 until 1735, the Rock River was within the range of the Mascouten, who were also pushed westward by the Iroquois. The Winnebago ranged southward from Wisconsin to the Rock River from the 1740s until 1837, while the river’s upper portion was on the periphery of the Fox and Sauk territory from about 1765 to 1833. By 1800, the Potawatomi, Ottawa and Chippewa nations had extended their range into the area, but they ceded their lands to the United States 32 years later following the Black Hawk War.
Settlement of Winnebago County Began after the Black Hawk War. The region that is now Rock Cut State Park was settled partly by Scots around Argyle - named for their Scottish home of Argyllshire - and partly by Canadians, New Yorkers and New Englanders around the town of Harlem - named for New York City’s Harlem. The Illinois version of Harlem was moved in 1859 when the Kenosha-Rockford Rail Line was built. The dammed waters of Pierce Lake now cover much of the railroad bed within the park, although portions of the railroad grade are visible along Willow Creek below the spillway. But blasting operations in a rock outcrop that railroad crews conducted during the 1859 construction left lasting impressions here - they cut through rock to provide a suitable roadbed and gave Rock Cut its name.
The Park's Present -
Because water serves as a welcome mat to birds and animals, wildlife watchers to the area won’t be disappointed. Birders report good viewing, with waterfowl being abundant. Deer, fox, muskrat, woodchuck and beaver inhabit Rock Cut State Park as do opossum, raccoon and both gray and fox squirrel. Over 100 types of wildflowers offer a showy display each spring and summer, while the hardwood trees dazzle you with their reds and golds every fall.
The trail system at Rock Cut offers opportunities for hiking (40 miles), mountain biking(23 miles), and equestrian(14 miles) and has been completely remarked beginning in 2003. Trail users will find updated trail head/information signs at picnic areas and trail access points for trail information and regulations. Only certain trails are designated for mountain biking and equestrian use and are identified by colored trail markers. Blue trails are for mountain biking and hiking, yellow trails are for equestrian and hiking and red trails are restricted to hiking only.
Trail activities have been divided into "summer and winter" seasons to provide quality seasonal programs. The "summer program" (mountain biking and equestrian) trails are open April 1st - November 30th. These regulations for mountain biking and equestrian use will be strictly enforced and violators are subject to fines.
The "winter program" provides for groomed cross-country trails as conditions permit. The groomed trails are best accessed at the Lions Club Picnic Area. As a courtesy, hikers and snow shoers are asked to use other trails that have not been groomed for skiing. A winter trail guide is being developed to better describe the trails groomed for classical skiing and those groomed for freestyle/skating.
Rock Cut also offers access (at the Pierce Lake spillway) to the Willow Creek Bike Trail and Perryville Path, a paved trail system connecting the local communities of Loves Park and Rockford to Rock Cut State Park.
For those who want to include an overnight stay in their visit to Rock Cut, the park offers 28 Class A-Premium sites for reservation, 180 Class A-Premium sites and 60 Class B-Premium sites on a first-come first-serve basis. There is also a primitive cabin available for reservation. It has electricity, but does not have water or plumbing facilities.
Open year round, the campgrounds provide water, electricity, sanitary dump stations, showers, toilets, a boat launch and playground equipment. Only electricity and pit toilets are available in the winter season. Equestrian camping is restricted to a site on Hart Road. Groups of more than 25 persons need advance permission from the site superintendent before they can enter the park, and all campers require a permit from park personnel. Alcohol is prohibited in the campground.
Picnicking and Concession-
Knowing that a visit to a state park is more fun when there’s food to be enjoyed, Rock Cut has picnic areas scattered throughout the park. Each is complete with tables, outdoor stoves, and pit toilets. Red Oak and Puri Crest have playgrounds. Check out our newest addition, the Boathouse Cafe, now serving lunch and dinner. For additional information call 815/885-2781.
Recreation - Fishing and Boating-
One of the park’s most popular activities is fishing Pierce Lake - named for state Rep. William Pierce of Rockford, who served in the legislature from 1951-1966 and who proposed the first land acquisition for the park in 1955. The lake is stocked with largemouth bass, bluegill, redear sunfish and channel catfish, as well as bullhead, northern pike, muskellunge and walleye. Beginning May 1, 2002, Pierce Lake will allow any size engine on the lake, however, engines over 10 hp can operate at No Wake speed only. For boat rental, (call 815/885-2781 for prices and information), docks and two launching ramps available. Olson Lake also offers excellent fishing. Carry on watercraft and electric motors only.
The hunting program allows disabled hunters an opportunity to participate in a Department of Natural Resources program for managing the deer herd and turkey populations at Rock Cut State Park.
Olson Lake Beach will be operated this summer (Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend) by contract of Beachwater Lifeguard & Lake Patrol. The Lake is open from 12:00PM to 7:00PM and the cost is $1 per person. For additional information call 815/885-9084.
Take to the trails in the winter. A winding system of cross-country ski trails lets you take in the park’s winter beauty. There’s more winter fun - ice fishing is a great Rock Cut pastime.
Climate - Illinois experiences four distinct seasons with varying weather throughout the year. Winter can be very cold. The highest humidity of the year occurs during this season averaging 70 to 75 percent. Average low temperatures in January dip to 20 degrees F with highs near 35 degrees F. Spring temperatures are mild with humidity below 70 percent. Temperatures during this season average between 32 and 50 degrees F. Summer is usually hot and humid in this Midwest state. Low temperatures remain in the low sixties with high temperatures near 90 degrees F. The highest rainfall of the year occurs during the summer months. Fall is an excellent time to visit the state with low humidity and rainfall and moderate temperatures.
I-90 West to Rockford. Take the East Riverside Blvd. Exit. Follow signs off tollway as follows: Go West on East Riverside to Perryville Road, Go North on Perryville to Hwy. 173, Go East on Hwy. 173 about 1-1/2 miles to Park Entrance.