Have you ever seen an animal track and wondered which creature made the print in soil, sand or snow?
If so, the Forest Preserve's Isle a la Cache Museum can help you identify the critter that crossed your path. A new Make Tracks exhibit recently opened at the museum, which is located at 501 E. 135th Street (Romeo Road) in Romeoville.
"This interactive exhibit encourages kids to make tracks in the putty with molds of animal paw prints and then try to figure out what animal those tracks belong to," said facility supervisor Chris Gutmann. "The 15 animals highlighted are those that were in 'Illinois Country' back in the 1700s."
Some of the animals are still padding around Isle a la Cache preserve leaving prints, but others have long since disappeared from Will County.
Museum visitors are invited to explore the drawers below the Make Tracks exhibit to learn more about the most important animal to the French fur trade era of the 1700s – the beaver.
Other exhibits at the museum highlight just how valuable the beaver pelt was at the time because it was used to make beaver felt used in hats.
"Beaver felt was strong, warm and waterproof," Gutmann explained. "Owning a beaver fur hat was a sign of wealth and prestige."
The Make Tracks exhibit blends perfectly with the theme of the museum, which celebrates the cultural history and nature of the preserve, which is located on an island in the Des Plaines River.
The exhibit is kid friendly and interactive, which is true of many Forest Preserve offerings.
Seeing something is not as much fun or as interesting as doing something, Gutmann said.
"This interactive exhibit is intended to not only engage children, but encourage all visitors to interact with staff and search the preserve for tracks to discover how many of these animals are still on the island," Gutmann said.
"People are far more likely to remember an experience if they interact with it."
Currently, 15 mammal prints are on display: beaver, black bear, bobcat, cottontail rabbit, coyote, gray squirrel, gray wolf, mountain lion, muskrat, raccoon, red fox, skunk, weasel, white-tailed deer and woodchuck.
In the future, the exhibit will feature other animal tracks and species, including birds.
The museum's hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Sunday, noon-4 p.m.; closed Monday.