Openlands Launches New Online Paddling Guide

Start paddling northeastern Illinois’ waterways!

Openlands’ new paddling website, Paddle Illinois Water Trails, is a comprehensive guide for canoeing and kayaking in the Chicago region. Covering over 500 miles of Water Trails across 10 of northeastern Illinois’ waterways, this new guide provides rich information about paddling, including step-by-step trips along each trail. The site contains trips and resources for everyone, from first-time paddlers to seasoned boaters.

The guide provides in-depth information on each waterway, including important notes about water safety, interactive maps, and multiple, in-depth trip descriptions. Each trip description includes information on skill levels, trail length, directions, and equipment rental locations if available. Interactive maps display launch sites, dams, and the paddling difficulty level along the trail. Paddlers can also leave comments and share their paddling tips on individual trail pages.

Visit the guide now!

BMO Harris Bank Gives Back in Community Gardens

On June 14, approximately 50 volunteers from BMO Harris Bank weathered blistering 90 degree heat to assist the school gardens at Hearst Elementary and the Academy for Global Citizenship (AGC). The neighboring schools on Chicago’s southwest side are home to schoolyard gardens supported by Openlands’ Building School Gardens program.

BMO Harris Bank is the Principal Sponsor of Building School Gardens, and through this program, approximately 33,000 students are directly impacted by the school gardens each day in addition to hundreds of teachers, parents, and community members.

“Volunteer workdays should be part of a company’s DNA,” said Bill Clarkin, Openlands Board Member and Vice President at BMO Harris Bank. “Being visible in a community is a two-way street, and as a business we have a responsibility to give back.”

This volunteer event was a part of the BMO Volunteer Day. All employees were encouraged to get out of the office and give back to their communities. Throughout the day, nearly 5,000 BMO Harris Bank employees assisted with projects across North America. In the Chicago area, more than 800 employees contributed over 2,200 hours of service to 17 projects.


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Many volunteers helped with weeding, planting, and mulching, while Openlands’ staff assisted the volunteers in building raised plant beds and providing tree care. Other volunteers worked with the school staff to facilitate outdoor lessons for the students.

The school gardens at Hearst and AGC, which are planted with a mixture of annual and perennial plants, edible plants, and native plants, are used to connect students to the natural environment. This year in the garden, third graders practiced fractions using seed depth and square foot gardening; fourth graders applied their knowledge of erosion by planting cover crops; and middle schoolers explored and designed their own biomimicry, using patterns and concepts found in nature to create solutions to human problems. The garden is also an essential space where students can meditate, relax, and take breaks.

“It is always so great to have volunteers out in our garden space,” said Marney Coleman, a teacher on the garden team at Academy for Global Citizenship. “Not only does it really help with the heavy lifting as far as time and labor, but with all the district budget cuts this year, the impact of Openlands being able to bring supplies like compost, plants, and tools to do this kind of work has a tremendous impact.”

Even BMO Harris Bank’s newest commercial banking summer interns — and one of their partners, Chicago Blackhawks’ Tommy Hawk — joined the workday and helped make this possible. As a commitment to healthy communities, BMO Harris Bank and Chicago Blackhawks have a standing partnership to support schools in the Chicago area.


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Marc Romito, Vice President of Commercial Banking at BMO Harris, explained the decision to volunteer with Openlands. “Partnering with Openlands is an example of leadership in giving back. We recognize Openlands as a partner in caring for communities, which is why Bill serves on the Board of Directors and why we volunteer with them.”

BMO Harris Bank has partnered with Openlands for their annual Volunteer Day on several past occasions. “Collectively, we give back and we connect with our communities no matter which position we hold,” said Clarkin. “It’s a great way to show we are part of the community and are helping the greater good.”

Many staff members and families commented that this was the best the garden had looked in a long time. Coleman expressed that a well-kept garden makes it much easier for students to learn outdoors, and helps build a sense of ownership, pride, and respect for the garden as a community space.

About BMO Harris Bank

BMO Harris Bank is committed to the principals of sustainable development and, in particular, to the belief that the quality of our lives improves when economic growth is achieved while respecting the environment. Our goal is to be one of the leading financial institutions in the area of Environmental Sustainability.


Openlands provides volunteer workday opportunities at community gardens, tree plantings, and beach clean-ups year round. If you are interested in learning how your workplace can get involved, please contact development@openlands.org or call 312.863.6261.

How To: Self-Guided Bird Walk

The following entry was written by Openlands Education Programs Coordinator, John Cawood. In his position, John helps to manage our Birds in my Neighborhood® program.

Want to go on a self-guided bird walk? Here are some tips!

Recently I had the joy of leading a bird walk with fourth grade students in Ms. Coleman’s class at Lavizzo Elementary, as a part of Openlands Birds in my Neighborhood Program. Lavizzo is in Chicago’s Roseland neighborhood on the south side, just west of Lake Calumet, and there is a high level of bird activity year-round. How do I know? The kids told me! They told me of the sparrows, blue jays, robins, cardinals, hawks, ducks, and geese that they had seen in their neighborhood. They told me that sometimes the birds are building nests, looking for food, singing in the trees, or soaring high in the sky. Then each student researched a bird and told me all about what they had learned.


Before we went out on a bird walk around the schoolyard, they also told me what you need to do in order to see birds. Here are their suggestions:

  1. Be quiet, so that you don’t scare the birds away. Also, if you are quiet then you might even be able to hear them sing.
  2. Try not to shout when you see a bird; just point so that other people can see the bird too.
  3. Be sneaky. Move slowly and quietly so you don’t scare the birds away.
  4. Be observant. Birds could be on the ground, behind a bush, in a tree, or in the sky, so look everywhere!
  5. If you are using binoculars, be very careful with them. Make sure they are focused so that you can see through them clearly.
  6. If the others in your group don’t seem to be doing the things you need to do to see birds, quietly remind them. That if they are observant, quiet, and slow moving, everyone has a better chance of seeing more birds.

This is a great list! Ms. Coleman has a lot of smart kids in her class. If you decide to go on a bird walk in your neighborhood, using their list will definitely help you to see more birds.


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If you are looking for suggestions for binoculars (you don’t need binoculars to see birds, but they do help with Rule #4 on the Lavizzo List), Birds in my Neighborhood uses the Leupold BX-1 Yosemite 8×30 model. They cost around $100, and are very sturdy and easy to hold on to. You can also hit Rule #4 by going birding with multiple people. Having a larger group presumably means that there are more eyes looking around for birds, but don’t forget Rule #6!

If you need a guide to help you along the way, Forest Preserves of Cook County offer a printable bird ID checklist. Our friends at the Field Museum offer some excellent guides to ID common Chicagoland birds including common sparrows, common winter birds, and common summer birds.

Lastly, don’t let these lists intimidate you – one of the best parts of birding is that anyone can do it!


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Where to Go

During migratory season in the spring (April-June) and in the fall (September-October), there is no better birding spot in the Chicago area, and arguably the entire Great Lakes region, than Chicago’s Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary. Situated along the border of the Mississippi and Atlantic Flyway, the Great Lakes region is immensely important for migratory birds.

Forests, grasslands, wetlands, and open water like at Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge, Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, or Deer Grove East. But you can even witness an impressive array of birds in a local park or in your neighborhood. Be sure to post the list of everything you see on www.ebird.org, and check out their hotspot map, which shows what everyone else is seeing in your area.

Bird life in the Chicago region is breathtaking at this time of year, so have a wonderful time on your trip – be it in your own neighborhood, at your local park or forest preserve, or at a larger natural area.

Finally, if you’re a photographer or avid Instagramer, bring your camera or phone and show the world the birds you spot! Tag your Instagram posts with #DiscoverYourPlace to be featured on Openlands’ stream and please share with us the highlights from your adventure.


Birds in my Neighborhood is taught by volunteers at Chicago Public Schools that have gardens created through Openlands Building School Gardens program. The goal is to acquaint students and teachers with the common birds in their garden, neighborhood, and city through in-class lessons and field trips. Each student is given a journal as an educational tool with prompts for writing about birds.

For more information, please contact schools@openlands.org or call 312.863.6276.

Department of the Interior “Reviews” the National Monuments

On May 5, the US Department of the Interior announced their list of National Monuments that will be “reviewed” by the Secretary of the Interior and potentially reversed as directed in an April 26 Federal Executive Order. A National Monument designation permanently protects America’s finest landscapes and cultural areas for all to enjoy, and Openlands adamantly opposes any effort to curtail protections for conserved Federal lands.

The original Executive Order instructed the Secretary of the Interior to review only those National Monuments greater than 100,000 acres in size and designated since 1996. Particularly troubling to Openlands was the specific inclusion on Interior’s list of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in northern Maine, which is smaller than 100,000 acres. Unlike the other monuments under review, which were designated through the Antiquities Act on existing federal lands, Katahdin was created through a private land donation of 87,000 acres with the express understanding that the land would be protected in perpetuity by the National Park Service as a National Monument.

Openlands is a non-profit land trust, and private land donations are the types of conservation partnerships we often facilitate. We work with private landowners to acquire lands with high conservation potential, and we hold them in trust until a government agency can acquire and permanently protect the lands as a state park, as a National Wildlife Refuge, or as a National Tallgrass Prairie.

Were Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument’s status to be reversed, it would set a dangerous precedent for all other federally protected land across the nation that began with a donation from a land trust or other private landowner. We see this as a legal precedent to undo protections for all conserved federal lands, especially lands donated to the Federal Government for conservation.


So now we need your voice to speak up in defense of our National Monuments and all of America’s public lands. If you enjoy visiting public lands, if you support conservation, or if you care about the National Parks, now is the moment to speak.

Please contact our leaders in Washington and demand they stop this attack on conservation. And thank you for your unwavering support.

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Birds in my Neighborhood Explores Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

On Saturday, May 13, the students and families of Ms. Caponigro’s third grade class at Peck Elementary headed to Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie for a Birds in my Neighborhood® field trip. Around 50 members of the Peck community spent the day spotting birds, searching for bison, and exploring the bunkerfields of Midewin.

Birds in my Neighborhood is taught by volunteers at Chicago Public Schools that have gardens created through Openlands Building School Gardens program. The goal is to acquaint students and teachers with the common birds in their garden, neighborhood, and city through in-class lessons and field trips. Each student is given a journal as an educational tool with prompts for writing about birds.

Ms. Caponigro’s third grade class learned about Chicago’s birds in the classroom, and had already completed two bird walks on school grounds and in Marquette Park. Saturday was an extra field trip, and one of the first Saturday field trips that Openlands has helped facilitate, and the result was spectacular.


Birds, Bison, and Bunkers

The field trip to Midewin started early at the Visitors Center where our friends from the Forest Service offered a brief overview of the area’s ecological and cultural history. Ms. Caponigro (Ms. Cap to her students) helped everyone in the group get acquainted with Midewin by translating the overview into Spanish.

“The Saturday field trip to Midewin was an amazing experience for our students and their families. To see such an expanse of nature and to learn about the history of the space along with identifying birds was something many of us will never forget,” explained Ms. Cap.

Openlands volunteers then led the students on a bird walk along the Explosives Road trail, and the families divided into two groups – one walk facilitated in Spanish and the other in English. Both students and families successfully spotted and identified many of the species using a bilingual guide provided by Forest Preserves of Cook County.

The third graders correctly identified a tremendous array of bird species including great blue herons, turkey vultures, eastern kingbirds, killdeer, blue jays, common yellowthroat, white-crowned sparrows, song sparrows, dickcissel, bobolinks, red-winged blackbirds, eastern meadowlarks, a scarlet tanager (pictured above), American goldfinches, red-tailed hawks, and more!

In the afternoon, the families had time to explore the retired US army ammunition bunkers that dot the Midewin landscape and after a lunch break, we headed up to Iron Bridge Trailhead in search of the bison herd. By the end of the day, most of the students were proclaiming it the best field trip ever.

Midewin is truly a breath-taking place to visit. At 19,000 acres, it is the largest open space in the Chicago region, it contains 22 miles of mixed use trails, and the biological diversity present is simply stunning. One student, speaking somewhat overwhelmed, expressed their disbelief not just at the number of bird species they saw, but that so many bird species even existed!


An Important Grassland Habitat

Massive open spaces like Midewin are vital for numerous reasons: they are home to some of Illinois’ last fragments of native prairie and they offer shelter to hundreds of species in need of conservation support. But research also demonstrates that positive experiences in nature with a trusted adult are an indicator of future environmental stewards, and this data drives our education work.

For Openlands, schools are the intersection of people and nature. Our Space to Grow partnership transforms CPS schoolyards into green campuses and gardens after seeking community input to address its needs, and schools are where we often gather communities for gardening workshops and to plant trees. Those trees and gardens become home to wildlife for students to learn about through Birds in my Neighborhood, and together, these communities foster new voices and new generations in the conservation movement.

When we forge new partnerships with schools, we listen to the needs of communities. For example, when Openlands began these Saturday field trips, we reached out to schools that we knew have an established interest in the nature of our region. Peck Elementary, located in Chicago’s West Elsdon neighborhood has been one of those inspiring schools. Peck was one of the first schools to sign up for Building School Gardens, and they were among the first schools to embrace a Birds in my Neighborhood curriculum. Ms. Cap has dozens of stories of her former students returning to her classroom to discuss birds, and her students have always appreciated the Birds in my Neighborhood class lessons.

“The bus ride back was buzzing with nature disscussions. Not to mention all the jealous comments on Monday from kids who didn’t attend,” said Ms. Cap.

Sharing these experiences with students demonstrates the value of conserved public lands, and furthers our mission to connect the residents of the Chicago region to the nature around them.


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Peck’s field trip to Midewin was a tremendous success. Many thanks go out to our Birds in my Neighborhood volunteers, the Forest Service staff who helped with site orientation, and to the staff at the Midewin Visitors Center, who offered us their shaded outdoor lunchroom for our break.

Saturday field trips to Midewin are made possible by the generous support of BNSF Railway and US Forest Service – International Programs. And of course, we couldn’t make these field trips happen without the passionate support of teachers like Ms. Cap and our generous Openlands members.


Ready to discover Midewin for yourself? We have a few suggestions on where to start.

If you are interested in becoming a Birds in my Neighborhood volunteer, please contact schools@openlands.org. If you wish to support the program, please contact development@openlands.org or call 312.863.6261.

Have You Discovered Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore?

Just over an hour from the Chicago Loop lies Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (IDNL). IDNL spans over 15,000 total acres, which include 15 miles of pristine Lake Michigan shoreline, and 50 miles of trails. The landscape of this area was shaped over 14,000 years ago by the last great continental glacier, and today includes dunes, oak savannas, swamps, bogs, marshes, prairies, rivers, and forests. The biological diversity within Indiana Dunes is among the highest per unit of any site in the National Parks system. Over 350 species of birds have been observed, 113 of which are considered to be regular nesters, along with more than 1,100 native plant species. In addition to these plant and bird species, Indiana Dunes is home to 46 mammals species, 18 amphibians, 23 different reptiles, 71 species of fish, 60 butterflies, 60 dragonflies/damselflies, and countless other vital species. 

Conservation efforts surrounding the Indiana Dunes and its unique ecosystems date back to 1899. The First World War halted protection due to a shift in national priorities, but in 1926 the site was designated as Indiana Dunes State Park. In 1966, the site was officially authorized as Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Openlands played an integral role in this designation. Today, extensive conservation work continues at Indiana Dunes in the forms of water quality monitoring, wetlands restoration, invasive species removal, and preventing shoreline erosion.

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is owned and operated by the National Park Service. Entrance and permit fees apply.


Directions 

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore has multiple points of entry, but the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center is located at 1215 North Indiana State Road 49 in Porter, Indiana at the intersection of I-94 and Indiana Route 49.  Standard park hours are daily from sunrise to sunset, and winter hours are daily from 8:30am to 4:30pm. The park is closed on all major holidays.


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What can you do at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore? 

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore offers year-round recreation opportunities, including beach-going, swimming, birding, camping, fishing, paddling, hiking, horseback riding, picnicking, cross country skiing, snow shoeing, and more!

  • Visitor Centers: Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore has two visitor centers within the park. The Indiana Dunes Visitor Center, also known as the Dorothy Buell Visitor Center, contains a bookstore, brochures, art, an activity room, and additional parking. The Paul H. Douglas Center for Environmental Education offers interactive exhibits and access to the Miller Woods trail system.
  • Beach Access: With 15 miles of Lake Michigan lakefront, the park is able to offer a variety of water based activities. There are a handful of parking lots allowing beach access as well.
    • West Beach: Located at the southern tip of Lake Michigan, West Beach is the only beach with life guards. In additional to water based recreation, West Beach offers access to the West Beach Trail System and breathtaking views of Lake Michigan from the dunes.
  • Hiking: Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore offers 50 miles of trails throughout the park along 14 different trail systems. Trails range from a casual stroll to an all day adventure. Some of the most popular systems are listed below:
    • Heron Rookery Trail System: This network of trails follows a portion of the Little Calumet River and is a birder’s paradise. Once a nest ground for Great Blue Herons, the trail is now a popular site for a variety of bird species.
    • Great Marsh Trail System: Another great hike for bird enthusiasts, this trail offers views of the largest wetland complex in the Lake Michigan watershed and hosts a multitude of bird species.
    • Glenwood Dunes Trail System: A popular trail system for hikers, runners, cross country skiers, and horseback riders. This trail is just under 7 miles, but can be linked with other trail systems for over 15 miles of recreation.
  • Historical Buildings: Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore hosts a variety of National Historical Landmarks and other significant structures including the Bailly Homestead, Chellberg Farm, and the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair Century of Progress Homes.
  • Geocaching: Geocaching is an interactive activity that involves using a Geocaching app or GPS to find hidden containers. Geocaching at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore can be found at the Chellberg Farm/Bailly Homestead Trail System.

Make a Day or Weekend of It!

  • Dunewood Campground: Just under 1.5 miles from Lake Michigan lakefront, this camp ground within the park offers 66 campsites with restrooms and showers. There is a $18 per night camping fees, and all sites are first come, first serve with no advance registrations. Leashed pets are welcome.
  • Lake Michigan Water Trail: Experienced kayakers are encouraged to paddle along the Lake Michigan Water Trail, and experience the dunes and national lakeshore like never before!
  • Upcoming Events: Check out the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore calendar for upcoming events such as gardening at Chellberg Farm or ranger led hikes.
  • Old Lighthouse Museum: Just 20 minutes from the park, this museum is located in the harbor of Michigan City, Indiana. The lighthouse is open Tuesday through Sunday from 1-4pm during the season.
  • Wolf Lake Trail System: As you head back to the Chicago area, you can spend some time enjoy the open spaces and trails around Wolf Lake.
  • Discover! Indiana Dunes is an excellent outlet for camping and recreation, but it is also one of the most biologically diverse areas in the country. Enjoy your time and discover something new at IDNL. If you’re a photographer or just an avid Instagramer, bring your camera or phone and share what you find! Tag your Instagram posts with #DiscoverYourPlace to be featured on our stream and please share with us the highlights from your adventure.

Openlands Director of Neighborhood Programs Leads Urban Conservation Plan

On April 18, Openlands Neighborhood Programs Director, Elvia Rodriguez Ochoa, was recognized for her successful completion of the Chicago Conservation Corps Leadership Certificate Program. The Chicago Conservation Corps (C3) recruits, trains, and supports a network of volunteers who work together to improve the quality of life in city neighborhoods and schools through environmental service projects. The training includes 20+ hours of sustainability-focused study and execution of a final project. Elvia choose to present two Spanish-language workshops on vermicomposting for families in Pilsen and Little Village. Participants were assisted in creating a home for the worms which they took home at the end of the workshops.

Elvia was one of three members of Environmentalists of Color (EOC) that were recognized that evening. EOC is an interdisciplinary network of leaders of color who are passionate about an array of critical environmental issues, ranging from habitat conservation to environmental justice.

“My goal in participating in these networks is to increase opportunities for Openlands to serve as a resource and to partner with groups across the Chicago area,” explains Elvia. “I especially like introducing people to Openlands and the variety of work that we do.”


El Paseo Community Garden Credit Pilsen Alianza Verde
El Paseo Community Garden, Photo: Pilsen Alianza Verde

Elvia leads Openlands’ longstanding focus on pollinator conservation in community gardens, which encourages gardeners to plant pollinator-friendly plants like common milkweed to support monarch butterflies. For instance, the Hoxie Prairie Garden on the southeast side is an excellent example of a pollinator-friendly habitat garden while El Paseo Community Garden in Pilsen combines both food growing and pollinator support.

One recent garden project Elvia has supported and which ties together her work with C3 is the Phoenix Garden in South Lawndale. Funded through a grant by the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation and building on substantial community engagement facilitated by the US Forest Service, the Phoenix Garden will combine art, restoration, community gardens, and even high school class lessons.

The new garden, located at Little Village Lawndale High School, will facilitate unique student art projects, help the environmental science program develop outdoor lessons in restoration, and create habitat for monarchs. Elvia will support both Enlace, a community organization based in Little Village, and the North Lawndale Greening Committee as they take charge of summer stewardship at the garden. This partnership will engage neighbors in both the North and South Lawndale communities in a neighborhood-wide pollinator conservation. The US Forest Service has done tremendous work with El Valor, another community agency, to raise awareness of best practices to support monarchs, and the new garden will offer a place for residents to release any monarchs they raise in their household gardens into a healthy habitat at the school.


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Morrill Elementary Community Garden

The communities around Little Village Lawndale High School have a history of championing community-sourced solutions for the challenges they face, and this garden is designed around leveraging community knowledge to achieve great conservation potential. “When Openlands facilitates dialogue between neighbors then sits down and listens to community needs, we achieve our most successful partnerships,” says Elvia.

Developing this natural area around the school into the Phoenix Garden started as an idea from residents and students. “I’m excited we can support connecting people to nature while helping Monarchs on the school grounds,” explains Elvia. “Whether with community gardens, Space to Grow, or Building School Gardens, when we engage people normally not included in these kinds of discussions, we find some of the best solutions for urban conservation.”

Explore Your Lakes and Rivers Returns!

Openlands’ popular Explore Your Lakes and Rivers paddling series is back this summer! Explore Your Lakes and Rivers is designed to acquaint local residents with the water trails surrounding them in the Chicago and Calumet areas. Whether for river cleanups, educational opportunities, or just for fun, these paddling events have brought families out on the water across the area.

On Friday, April 28, we held our first paddling event of the year at Ping Tom Memorial Park and explored the South Branch of the Chicago River. With the rain staying away for the afternoon (and the sun shining for a while) paddling groups were able not only able to explore the Chicago River for the first time, but for many, this was their first time paddling!


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For the second year, Wilderness Inquiry assisted our Ping Tom trip, and they provided canoes, equipment, and guides for the day, allowing more people to experience the river which winds through their own backyards. Wilderness Inquiry’s excellent guides made sure everyone was prepared to hit the water by offering safety lessons and equipment demonstrations before heading out. And while this can be a high-traffic area of the Chicago River, their guides found a quiet time for the tours, making sure everyone could enjoy their time without hesitation.

On Saturday, April 29, many different families, community groups, and volunteers braved miserable conditions in the rain and cold to spend some time on the river, as well as to assist with a park cleanup and tree mulching. Our friends from Faith in Place facilitated a discussion of migration stories, sharing how the families and communities in attendance arrived in the Chicago region. Families could also try their luck with a self-guided bird walk around Ping Tom Memorial Park both days.


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Ready to explore the Water Trails of Northeastern Illinois for yourself? Visit Openlands’ online paddling guide and start exploring these waterways this weekend! Like Explore Your Lakes and Rivers events, the guide is designed to be inclusive for first-time paddlers, and is a free and open resource for the public.

The online guide contains step-by-step trip descriptions for non-motorized boating on over 500 miles of trails on 10 of the region’s waterways. The website can help you plan your next paddling trip by providing information on important features of each waterway, locations of water trail put-ins and take-outs, trip length and difficulty, and equipment rental locations.

The website also provides easy-to-use, interactive maps for each trail, indicating launch sites, dams, and skill levels along the trail. To make your trip as enjoyable as possible, the guide also notes trail extensions, shorter alternative trips, and opportunities to view wildlife and landmarks. Paddlers may also leave comments on each waterway page to share their paddling tips.

With the guide’s help, you’ll be prepared to visit some of the highest quality aquatic habitat along the Kishwaukee River, paddle on Little Calumet River through Kickapoo Woods, and take the Fox River to Silver Springs State Park. Openlands’ guide has detailed resources and trips for everyone, even if you’ve never paddled before.

With trails on Nippersink Creek winding through Glacial Park, to trips on the Chicago River in the heart of the city, northeastern Illinois’ Water Trails are waiting to be explored.

Use the guide to start planning your trip now!


Paddling events are all open to the public and we encourage you to join us at the next paddling day, even if you are a first-time paddler! For more information on Explore Your Lakes and Rivers, please contact paddle@openlands.org.

Building School Gardens Workshops Prepare CPS for Spring

Maintaining a school garden year after year is a challenge, and Openlands is proud that over 90% of our Building School Gardens schools are still using their school gardens, some of which are over ten years old! Through Building School Gardens, approximately 33,000 students are directly impacted by the school gardens each day in addition to the hundreds of teachers, parents, and community members.

Openlands continues to support 58 Chicago Public Schools each year through garden team consultations, stewardship days, and additional education programming like Birds in my Neighborhood® and Eco-Explorations. One of the most impactful ways we help our school gardeners is through Building School Gardens workshops.

Held throughout the year at Building School Gardens schools, these workshops give teachers and garden team members tools that help them to maintain the garden, and to use the schoolyard as a part of class lessons, and it provides garden teams with a networking opportunity. Openlands uses an annual survey to drive the content of workshops, but a typical year-long schedule includes training on building and maintaining a garden team, stewarding a school garden, curriculum connections, and garden tours.


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In the fall of 2016, Building School Gardens met at Webster Elementary’ s new garden to share STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) lessons. In the winter, Franklin Fine Arts hosted a workshop on Art in the Garden, where participants learned how to make stepping stones. This spring, Tonti Elementary hosted a workshop on Vegetable Gardening Basics, and shared a lesson on Poetry in the Garden. The Tonti workshop was a smashing success, and teachers requested that we offer it in Spanish, which will happen on May 8 at Tonti. In addition to the Vegetable Gardening workshop in Spanish, Building School Gardens will coordinate a plant divide at Mark Sheridan Academy on May 20, and a training on Stewarding the School Garden at Palmer Elementary, at a date yet to be determined.

In the 2016-17 school year, over 20 Building School Gardens schools have been represented at these workshops. Several of these schools have had a very high level of participation among their garden team, and will therefore receive small stipends from Building School Gardens as an award for their efforts.


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Openlands also visited the entire staff at McPherson and Webster Elementary to provide a separate training on How and Why to Teach Outdoors. For some teachers this comes naturally, but we have found that for the others that don’t generally think about using the garden – or that don’t even know about the garden – but a special workshop on the topic can help increase the use of the outdoor space for learning.

Building School Gardens staff are beginning to create the schedule for next year’s workshops. Content will ultimately depend on survey responses from teachers, but we expect to touch on education activities related to trees and birds.


For more information on future Building School Gardens workshops, please contact schools@openlands.org.

Celebrate Earth Day Around Chicagoland

Earth Day is celebrated on April 22, and we want to share some ways you can enjoy and protect the planet this year. Below is a list of just a few places where you can get involved, spend some time outside, and enjoy the nature around you throughout the Chicago area.

If you just want to get outside and celebrate Earth Day in your own way, take a look at our suggestions to discover the outdoors of the Chicago region.


Friday, April 21

Join the Environmental Law and Policy Center, Friends of the Chicago River, Illinois Environmental Council, Alliance for the Great Lakes, Openlands, and many more for a rally in support of some basic common sense ideas like climate action, clean energy, and protecting clean air. Learn more.


Saturday, April 22

On Earth Day, head downtown for the March for Science. Show your support for the scientific community, for government-funded research, for science-based decision making in public policy, and for curiosity and exploration, the very basis of science. Learn more.

Join Openlands for community tree plantings across Chicago. On Earth Day we are looking for TreeKeepers to help plant in Humboldt Park and our Forestry Crew is assisting a community tree planting in Forest Glen. Be sure to register as a volunteer if you’re interested.

Residents in Lake County can head to the Chicago Botanic Garden to hear an expert panel discuss global climate change, which is being hosted by Congressman Brad Schneider (IL-10). Learn more.

Friends of the Parks is organizing their 28th Annual Earth Day Parks and Preserves Clean-Up. All morning long, volunteers will be out caring for the parks and green spaces of Chicago. Learn more.

Forest Preserves of Cook County will host a series of Earth Day events including special celebrations, bird hikes at LaBagh Woods and Sagawau Environmental Learning Center, canoe trips, volunteer restoration projects, and more. Check out their full list.

DuPage Forest Preserves are hosting several history hikes, site tours, and restoration workdays at Churchill Woods, West Chicago Prairie, and Mayslake. See the full list.

Lake County Forest Preserve District is also hosting an Earth Day celebration at Ryerson Woods in the afternoon, following a restoration workday at that site in the morning. Learn more.


Sunday, April 23

Join My Block, My Hood, My City for their One Block at a Time celebration of Earth Day. MBMHMC will be partnering with Chicago FarmWorks to prepare for a spring planting. Chicago FarmWorks is a 2.6 acre urban farm located in Chicago’s East Garfield Park that donates over 10,000 pounds of produce to Chicago food banks. Sign up to help.

Similarly, Advocates for Urban Argiculture maintain a calendar of community gardens events in Chicago, and they have multiple ways to get involved all weekend long. View their calendar.


Saturday, April 29

On the following Saturday, you can lend your voice for the planet once again at the People’s Climate March. Join climate activists in Chicago and across the country to stand up for our communities, climate action, and a healthy planet. Learn more.


Be sure to share your Earth Day with us! If you’re on Instagram, tag your photos from Earth Day with #DiscoverYourPlace to share your day with the Openlands community.