Have You Discovered the South Shore Nature Sanctuary?

No matter your feelings on city life, we can all appreciate a quiet moment with nature in the heart of the city. You can find one of the most sublime retreats into nature at Chicago’s South Shore Nature Sanctuary. Maintained by the Chicago Park District, the South Shore Nature Sanctuary is six acres of dunes, wetlands, woodlands, and prairies within South Shore Beach Park.

This small nature preserve sits peacefully on the shores of Lake Michigan, home to a short boardwalk and some magnificent views of the lake and the skyline. It is a great location for a short walk in the city or to make part of a larger day in the community. There are two rest areas within the nature sanctuary if you want to bring a picnic.

The nature sanctuary is one of more than 50 natural areas found across Chicago parks. The Park District has committed to protecting and expanding these natural areas to allow residents richer experiences with the nature around us, to provide habitat, and to preserve some of the landscapes that existed in our region before European settlement. The nature sanctuary is also one of the city’s best locations to spy an amazing array of migrating bird life. Our location along the shores of Lake Michigan makes Chicago an important intersection for birds as they make seasonal migrations along the Mississippi region and across the Great Lakes. Spots of green along the lake here or at places like Montrose Point are just beckoning to them!


Getting There

The South Shore Nature Sanctuary is located behind the Cultural Center (7059 S South Shore Drive). Both are accessible from the Metra Electric South Shore stop or the 6 and 71 buses. It also sits at the southern end of the Lakefront Trail (details below)! Parking is available on site.

Site information via the Chicago Park District.


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Activities and Amenities

In addition to the nature sanctuary, you can make use of some of the other features within South Shore Beach Park.

  • Hit the Beach: Shore South Beach is adjacent to the nature sanctuary and the cultural center. During beach season, it is open daily from 11am-7pm. Swimming is allowed and the beach house is located just to the east of the Cultural Center along the beach.
  • Birding: Birds nest to the nature sanctuary year-round and if you are interested, you can contribute to a community bird count. Be sure to bring a camera or binoculars because you won’t want to miss the colors!
  • Photography: The landscapes and vistas here offer some great perspectives of Chicago. If you’re a photographer or just an avid Instagrammer, bring your camera or phone and share what you find at the nature sanctuary! Tag your Instagram posts with #DiscoverYourPlace to be featured on our stream and please share with us the highlights from your adventure.
  • South Shore Culture Center: Considered to be the jewel of the neighborhood, this facility features a solarium, formal dining hall, Paul Robeson Theater, Washburne Culinary Institute, the Parrot Cage Restaurant, and the Dr. Margaret Burroughs gallery.
  • South Shore Golf Course: the park is also home to a nine-hole public golf course. Home to some phenomenal mature trees, South Shore Golf Course is certified as Cooperative Sanctuary by Audubon International.

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Make a Day of It!

  • DuSable Museum: The DuSable Museum of African American History is dedicated to the Collection, Documentation, Preservation, Study and Dissemination of the History and Culture of Africans and Americans of African Descent. One of Chicago’s finest museums, this makes a great addition to a day on the south side.
  • Lakefront Trail: Stretching from South Shore to Edgewater, Chicago’s Lakefront Trail is an 18-mile stretch public open space showcasing one of the city’s absolute treasures, Lake Michigan. If you’re planning out distance, the nature sanctuary is at 7100 South, but definitely consider the trip!
  • Jackson Park: Take a trip through the historic Jackson Park! Designed by landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmstead, the 500-acre Jackson Park was home to the 1893 World’s Fair and today holds a variety of landscaping features worth exploring. Hint: Be sure to check out the Garden of the Phoenix.
  • Lake Michigan Water Trail: The Illinois section of the Lake Michigan Water Trail stretches 68 miles from the Indiana border, at Calumet Park on the south side of Chicago, to the Wisconsin border, north of Winthrop Harbor in Lake County. There are numerous places to launch from on the South Side including 63rd Street Beach and Jackson Park Harbor.

Advocating for Chicago’s Trees, Block by Block

In 2016, TreeKeeper Ed Zimkus noticed something peculiar happening to the trees on his block. Ed lives in West Edgewater, a typical Chicago neighborhood with countless tree-lined streets, but even when Ed became a certified TreeKeeper, he never expected to find himself in a fight to save all 13 trees on one side of the block. The following was written by TreeKeeper Ed.


It started in 2016, when I discovered spray-painted magenta dots at the base of many of our block’s parkway trees. The dots continued for a couple of blocks and around the corner. I had no luck in getting answers from the ward office about who sprayed the dots or what they meant. No one seemed to know. I let it ride until this March, when I became alarmed at the spray-painted green stripe running down the middle of our parkway the length of the block. A couple of trees – both of them healthy – had big green X’s on the trunks. It didn’t look good.

Eventually I learned that the Chicago Department of Water Management is in the midst of a 10-year program to replace century-old water mains all across the city. Their goal is to replace 30 miles of water mains a year. It’s a huge, expensive undertaking, and who can argue with updating the city infrastructure? If a couple of our parkway trees were going to be collateral damage, my main concern was minimizing the root damage to the remaining trees on the block. I emailed the Ward Office asking that someone from the Bureau of Forestry be consulted to help protect the remaining trees, as I had learned from the TreeKeepers training. Yet I heard nothing back until the Department of Water Management returned to our block a few weeks later. This time they marked a big green X on every single parkway tree. The supposed final word is that the devastating result of a new water main is going to be zero trees on our side of the block. No shade. No birds. No beauty.


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In Chicago, trees marked with a dot typically mean they’ve been recently inventoried, but you certainly want to pay attention and get in touch with Openlands.

As a home-owner and tree lover, I couldn’t give up so easily. The more I talked to neighbors and my Openlands connections, the more I got swept up in an activist role. I’m learning as I go, with the outcome still in question, but if trees in your neighborhood become threatened, this much I can share:

There’s Strength in Numbers: Rally your neighbors to email or phone your Alderman. You can’t stop the construction, but say you want them to explore every option to save as many trees as possible. I dropped off flyers on porches and posted on our neighborhood website, and the response was quite positive. This prompted our alderman to forward a letter from the water department commissioner to everyone who expressed concern.

The water commissioner said there was nothing to be done, and unfortunately the trees had to go. However, I knew enough from talking to my contacts that there are options. This led to me drafting a petition asking for a meeting with the alderman, representatives from the Chicago Department of Water Management, the Bureau of Forestry, and residents all present – preferably on site. With so much to lose, we wanted to have all our questions answered before the trees are taken down.

Start gathering knowledge and taking pictures: Document whatever helps your case. Many neighbors take their parkway trees for granted, so be sure to remind them what they stand to lose unless they speak up. Your neighborhood trees have real value as property assets. Trees sequester and store carbon by absorbing CO2, they soak up rainwater to reduce flooding, and reduce the “heat island” effect in neighborhoods, and mature trees won’t be replaced for decades. Learn whatever you can about the options. (For instance, I’m trying to find out how wide a water main trench has to be.)

Understand it’s all about money: The water main upgrade is so big, subcontractors outside of the city are being contracted, with low bids getting the job. The faster they make it go, the more money they make. They’re not really worried about our parkway trees. Make a monetary case for the value of the trees as property assets. Removing and replacing decades-old trees is expensive. Imagine the change in cooling costs to your home. Ask about the cost of any construction options that might save the trees. (In our case, I want to know why the new water main can’t be in the street instead of the parkway, like it is throughout most of the city. Aren’t they just perpetuating the planting and removal of parkway trees with every future pipe issue?) Let them come back to you with costs. Don’t be inflexible or angry, or you risk alienating your alderman, who may want to find a solution for all. But make noise. The city departments and contractors are all counting on apathy to make their jobs easier.

Finally, know that there is a chance we may not win, but losing is certain if we don’t speak up.


Openlands Forestry team has planted more than 4,500 trees across the Chicago region since 2013. With the help of our TreeKeepers volunteers, we are the active stewards of Chicago’s urban forest. If you are concerned about tree removals in your neighborhood, please contact TreeKeepers@Openlands.org.

Davis Elementary Opens New Space to Grow Schoolyard

On Tuesday, June 19 — the last day of school at Chicago Public Schools — Nathan S. Davis Elementary officially opened their redesigned Space to Grow campus. Space to Grow is an innovative partnership led by Healthy Schools Campaign and Openlands to transform Chicago schoolyards into vibrant spaces to play, learn, and be outside, while helping neighborhoods to reduce urban flooding. Located in Chicago’s Brighton Park neighborhood, Davis is now the tenth schoolyard transformation completed through Space to Grow.

Davis Elementary and Openlands first partnered together in 2011 through our Building School Gardens program, and at that time, two school gardens and outdoor classroom facilities were installed. But before its Space to Grow redesign, the schoolyard at Davis wasn’t much of a community asset: the school’s turf grasses were worn down by the regular recess activity and the surface track needed to be repaved. The schoolyard did not drain well after rain and storms, making it difficult for plants and gardens to thrive, and a new playground was at the top of students’ wishlists.

After gathering input from community members, the Space to Grow team came up with a plan for the school. The new features at Davis Elementary include outdoor classrooms, new rain gardens and native plants, as well as three new age-appropriate playgrounds. A stormwater management system is integrated across the campus which can capture 150,000 gallons of rain. The new campus also now includes a turf field, basketball courts, and surface track to promote physical wellness for students and community members.

“This space is open to all of you – families and students – on the weekends and after school, and we invite you to use it and enjoy it,” said Davis Elementary’s Principal Rocio Rosales-Gaskin. “We ask that you help us care for and steward it, so it can become a green asset for the community.”


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Space to Grow schoolyards like Davis are designed as welcoming green spaces not just for students and teachers, but also for the parents and residents of the surrounding community. Students, staff, parents, and community members are invited to participate in the inclusive planning process, allowing for the unique needs and vision of the entire school community to be communicated and addressed in the design.

“We know that all of you here today – parents, neighbors, community partners, teachers, and staff and your dedication administration in Ms. Rosales and Ms. Negron – are key ingredients to a healthy and successful school, and I want thank you all,” Senior Vice President of the Healthy Schools Campaign Claire Marcy said. “You not only helped design the schoolyard, but have all committed to use and maintain this beautiful new space. You are the heart of Space to Grow!”

Although each design is unique, every schoolyard supports the program’s three main goals of managing stormwater, creating outdoor classrooms and gardens, and providing health and wellness opportunities. Schools in the program all have recognized needs when the planning begins, such as lack of neighborhood green space, inadequate playgrounds for students, and regular local flooding, but from the beginning of the process we work closely with the communities to ensure the project meets their unique needs and has community champions.

“It is so wonderful that the Nathan Davis students and community can connect to nature right here at your school,” Openlands President and CEO Jerry Adelmann said. “Your new schoolyard features not only this amazing new playground and field, but also a beautiful outdoor classroom and many gardens.”


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Alderman George Cardenas with Davis students

After first establishing our relationship with Davis through Building School Gardens, we are so pleased to see the school enhanced by their new Space to Grow campus. Openlands commits to long-term relationships with our Chicago Public School partners, working with students to see nature in a school garden, around their neighborhoods, and across landscapes. As our expertise in environmental education has grown over the years, we have developed new programs to help students recognize the nature around them and to engage entire school communities in conservation.

Davis Elementary is the first of six schools to celebrate new schoolyards through the program in 2018. We are currently assisting the school communities at Cook Elementary in Auburn-Gresham, Fernwood Elementary in Washington Heights, Eugene Field Elementary in Rogers Park, Morton School of Excellence in Humboldt Park, and Farnsworth Elementary School in Jefferson Park, and those schoolyards will open later in the year.

Partnerships like Space to Grow help our education programs continue to evolve, and help Openlands continue to listen, continue to engage, and continue to inspire the next generation of conservation leaders.


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The redesign would not be a reality without funding and leadership from Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Department of Water Management, and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater·Chicago. And next fall, the schoolyard will have new edible gardens donated by Big Green Chicago (formerly the Kitchen Communtiy). We’re also honored to have the support of the philanthropic and corporate community including the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, ArcelorMittal, Prince Charitable Trusts, Polk Brothers Foundation, The Siragusa Family Foundation, and the Central Indiana Community Foundation for this important work. Additional support was provided by a joint effort of U-Haul and the Conservation Fund to support community conservation in Chicago.


Space to Grow is an award-winning, innovative program led by Healthy Schools Campaign and Openlands to transform Chicago schoolyards into vibrant outdoor spaces that benefit students, community members, and the environment. Space to Grow uses a unique model that brings together capital funds and leadership from Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Department of Water Management, and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. For more information, please visit www.spacetogrowchicago.org.

Have You Discovered Volo Bog?

In the southwest corner of Lake County lies one of Illinois’ unique wetland communities, Volo Bog. Managed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Volo Bog State Natural Area contains a few trails for you to explore including a half-mile interpretative boardwalk and an approximately three-mile trail with views of the tamarck forests. In 1970, Volo Bog was designated as an Illinois Nature Preserve and in 1972 as a National Natural Landmark.

Over 10,000 years ago, during the end of the last Ice Age, a chuck of retreating glacial ice lodged itself deep in the ground at what is now Volo Bog. Several thousand years later the remnant lake began to fill with salt and vegetation, creating the wetlands present today. Volo Bog is technically known as a quaking bog because vegetation floats atop the open water. Yes, all the surrounding plant life and trees in the picture above are floating. Over time, the absence of waves will allow the plant life to slowly expand further onto the water, eventually covering the entire site.

As you explore this natural area, you’ll quickly transition between several types of habitats, including tamarack forests, marshlands, and shrublands. If you’re a photographer or just an avid Instagrammer, bring your camera or phone and share what you find at Volo Bog! Tag your Instagram posts with #DiscoverYourPlace to be featured on our stream and please share with us the highlights from your adventure.


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Getting There

Volo Bog is little over an hour’s drive from downtown Chicago. There are several road routes across Lake County to reach Volo Bog, and the site is accessible on Brandenburg Road, just north of the intersection of IL-120 and US-12. Be sure to swing by the visitors’ center when you arrive to get some more information and you can plan on packing lunch as there are multiple picnic areas at Volo Bog.

Site information via Illinois Department of Natural Resources.


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The Eye of Volo Bog

The center of Volo Bog is called the Eye, and it is far more than a simple, ordinary pond. The Eye of Volo Bog is the only remaining open-water quaking bog in Illinois and the southernmost quaking bog in North America to show all the stages of bog succession.

From a birds-eye view, Volo Bog looks like a eye (hence the nickname maybe?), with five distinct layers of vegetation surrounding the ‘pupil.’ Each of the five rings support different varieties of plants and each marks different durations of time that plants have expanded over the open water. The three inner-most rings, made up herbs and shrubs, are floating on water that’s 50 feet deep! Here you’ll see plants like white water lilies, water shields, and highbrush blueberries, as well as tamarack and bog birch trees. You may even notice a scent of peat in the air.

As you walk the boardwalk, keep an eye out for the changes in plant life that you pass, and the signage along the way will point out some of the unique features.


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Make a Day or Weekend of Your Trip

In addition to your visit to Volo Bog, here are a few suggestions to make a full day or weekend of your trip.

  • Paddle the Fox River Water Trail: The Fox River Water Trail stretches across northeast Illinois from the trail’s origin in Chain’O’Lakes. There are several launch points near Johnsburg and McHenry that allow for shorter or longer trips. Learn more…
  • Visit Glacial Park: Nearby Glacial Park encompasses 3,400 acres of restored open space including prairie, wetlands, oak savanna, and delta kames. Over 400 of these acres are a dedicated nature preserve, and it is home to 40 state-endangered and threatened plant and animal species. Additionally, Glacial Park is ranked as one of the top five locations in the region to view migratory birds. Visitors can enjoy a wide range of activities from horseback riding to hiking to historic site visits. Learn more…
  • Moraine Hills State Park: From hiking and biking, to lush habitats, rare plants and abundant wildlife, Moraine Hills State Park is home to a recreational bounty in northeast Illinois. Located three miles south of the City of McHenry in McHenry County, the park is located near the Fox River and McHenry Dam, with about half of the park’s 2,200 acres composed of wetlands and lakes. Learn more…
  • Visit the City of McHenry: The City of McHenry, situated along the Fox River and 10 miles from the Wisconsin border, is a vibrant community with a charming downtown. Stopping over in the local towns is a great way to show how conservation and eco-tourism can benefit local economies. Learn more…

Learn more about Openlands’ commitment to Lake County, Illinois.

Following Restoration, South Cook Forest Preserves Have Become Birding Hotspots

Two forest preserves in southern Cook County, Bartel Grassland and Tinley Creek Wetlands, have proven themselves to be phenomenal destinations for birding in the Chicago region — and that is entirely due to years of successful restoration at the two sites.

Restoration is the process of returning the land to a healthy state for nature, wildlife, and people. The two forest preserves are across the street from one another, and Openlands has managed the restoration of these sites since 2008 and continue to as part of the Forest Preserve’s Next Century Conservation Plan. By identifying and restoring conservation areas in proximity to one another, we create the habitat on the scale needed for wildlife to thrive.

The landscapes of the Chicago region are particularly important for migrating wildlife and bird species. Forests, grasslands, wetlands, and open water provide stopover points for birds during their semi-annual journeys that, for some species, span across continents and hemispheres. The Great Lakes provide an important bridge between two migratory routes, the Mississippi and Atlantic Flyways, which help bird species as they move from their breeding areas to their winter homes. The resulting migrations of bird species in spring and autumn color our skies and neighborhoods with a stunning diversity of birds, but they rely on local green spaces and nature preserves like these for rest, food, and shelter.


 

Since 2008, Openlands and the Forest Preserves of Cook County have worked together to enhance over 1,400 acres of continuous grassland habitat at these two preserves. Restoration has involved removing invasive vegetation, planting native prairie plants, and engaging volunteers and the surrounding community. We worked to restore the sites’ natural hydrology (the process of how water moves through an area), and in some instances, reconstructed the natural topography by shaping depressions in the land to mimic wetlands. Recreating these landscapes has led to spectacular results.

Since the restoration occurred, both preserves have attracted many grassland birds — particularly Bobolinks, Eastern Meadowlarks, and Dickcissels, as well as winter raptors such as the Northern Harrier and the Short-eared Owl — in much greater numbers and over more acres. In 2017, 11 new bird species were observed at the preserves: Greater White-fronted Goose, Alder Flycatcher, Broad-winged Hawk, Golden-winged Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Mourning Warbler, American Redstart, Blackburnian Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, and Black-throated Green Warbler! These species add to the 160+ bird species that have been observed at the preserves as of February 2018.


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And while the abundance of bird species is reason to celebrate, the quality of restored habitat is worth protecting as strongly as we can. Following restoration, both of these preserves were awarded Illinois Land and Water Reserve status by the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission, granting additional protection for these special places. Over 900 acres of Tinley Creek Wetlands were protected in 2017 as Bobolink Meadow Land and Water Reserve, and Bartel Grassland Land and Water Reserve is 585 acres of protected natural areas.

Additionally, both preserves earned recognition from the Audubon Society in 2016 as an Important Bird Area. Important Bird Areas are internationally recognized places that are chosen for their unique role in providing habitats for birds. These habitats play a vital role in the lives of birds who are endangered or threatened, either by providing breeding grounds, pathways for migration, or places to spend the winter. Of the 93 birds on Bird Conservation Network’s species of concern in the Chicago region, 50 have been observed in both preserves, including six endangered and one threatened species.

Through many efforts and the work of several partners, the restoration of Tinley Creek Wetlands and Bartel Grassland has been one of the most successful bird conservation projects in the Chicago region. After ten years of restoration, the promise of these grasslands has been fulfilled, and these preserves hold potential to serve as a regional resource for years to come.


Visit the Preserves

Bartel Grassland and Tinley Creek Wetlands are located at the intersection of Central Ave. and Flossmoor Rd. near Tinley Park. Ready to try out birding for yourself? We have some tips.

Learn more about Openlands’ land preservation efforts.


Audubon Great Lakes, Bartel Grassland Volunteers, Chicago Department of AviationChicago District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Living Habitats, and the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission all assisted with these projects.

Special thanks to local nature photographer Erin Soto for sharing all the above images of Bartel Grassland.

Have You Discovered Oak Openings Nature Preserve?

When was the last time you wandered through an ancient grove of oak trees and stumbled upon a hidden pond tucked away quietly in the woods? At Oak Openings Nature Preserve, you can do just that, while exploring a conservation community in the heart of Lake County, Illinois.

Oak Openings Nature Preserve is 73 acres of protected open space in Grayslake providing year-round recreation opportunities, local trail connections, chances to explore a variety of native landscapes, and a central location to start a day enjoying the Liberty Prairie Reserve — the larger conservation community and network of protected lands surrounding Oak Openings.

Liberty Prairie Reserve encompasses nearly 6,000 acres in Lake County, over half of which have been permanently protected as conserved open space through a network of natural landscapes and farmland. It is community of advocates and stewards, passionate about conserving land and wildlife, that has come together to live with a sensitivity towards nature, create a sense of place with the land, and enhance habitat for wildlife on the scale needed to thrive.

There are several ways to discover and enjoy the mosaic of sites comprising the Liberty Prairie Reserve, and we encourage you to explore the entire area for yourself during your trip to Oak Openings.

If you’re a photographer or just an avid Instagrammer, bring your camera or phone and share what you find at Oak Openings! Tag your Instagram posts with #DiscoverYourPlace to be featured on our stream and please share with us the highlights from your adventure.


Oak Openings Bench

Getting There and Site Info

Located in Grayslake, Illinois, Oak Openings Nature Preserve is on the east side of Route 45, half a mile south of Route 120 and just north of Casey Road. Parking is accessible only when traveling north on Route 45. The preserve is also accessible by train, with a stop along both the Milwaukee District North and North Central lines (Prairie Crossing stations).

The Casey Trail passes through Oak Openings and connects to a 12+ mile local trail system. Signage provides additional site and trail information, and dog waste bags are available at the trailhead. There is a portable restroom located in the parking area.

Oak Openings Nature Preserve is owned and operated by Libertyville Township Open Space District.


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Hike to a Quiet, Hidden Pond

Hidden among the oak groves of the preserve is the quiet Ryan Pond, with a simple shore line perfect for a picnic. As you venture along the Casey Trail, you will notice a shallow creek carving through the trees to the north of the trail — this is Bulls Brook. This creek empties into Ryan Pond, a site protected in Illinois as a Land and Water Reserve. About half a mile along the Casey trail, you’ll come to a dirt path leading away from the gravel path (shown above). This is the Almond Marsh foot path.

Ryan Pond is a registered Illinois Land and Water Reserve. We’ve been told it was dug so sediment in Bulls Brook from the surrounding agricultural lands could settle out before the creek entered the high quality Almond Marsh wetlands, which are also protected as an Illinois Nature Preserve.

Wander these dirt trails wherever they take you for a phenomenal adventure through an oak woodland. A short walk will bring you to the pond, and a longer adventure will bring you to benches sitting in the shade of massive trees and entire wetlands within Almond Marsh. This trail winds through a dedicated Illinois Nature Preserve, so it is one of the best examples of Illinois wildlife and landscapes.

Please be advised that this is a dirt path with graded sections, small foot bridges, and tree roots crossing the trail. It may not be accessible for all visitors. The trail passes through a dedicated nature preserve, which is home to delicate wildlife, so please do smell and enjoy the flowers, but please do not take any home with you. Additionally, since this trail passes near a wetland, you should be aware of the potential to encounter wildlife and insects. Learn more here about living with wildlife.


Casey Trail

Make a day of it!

  • Independence Grove Forest Preserve: Independence Grove is the more popular Forest Preserve in Lake County. Located on the eastern boundary of the Reserve, Independence Grove Forest Preserve offers over six miles of trails for hiking, biking, and other outdoor recreation. You can also rent bikes and a variety of boats on-site and explore the 115-acre lake, enjoy a picnic, or take in the picturesque setting for a day outdoors!
  • Des Plaines River Water Trail: Launching from Independence Grove, you can explore the Des Plaines River by canoeing or kayaking along the Des Plaines River Water Trail. Lake and Cook County Forest Preserve Districts have protected long stretches of the river by developing a Des Plaines River greenway and bike path along its banks.
  • Prairie Crossing Farm: Located across the street from Oak Openings is the Prairie Crossing community and Prairie Crossing Farm. Educational programs and tours are offered through the Liberty Prairie Foundation at the Farm Business Development Center. Learn about the 100 acre certified organic farm or ask about volunteering! You can also check out the calendar for upcoming events.
  • Rollins Savanna: One of Lake County’s largest forest preserves, Rollins Savanna offers the perfect setting for grassland birds and other wildlife. A 5.5-mile gravel trail with bridges and boardwalks winds through wetlands, groves of large oaks, and open prairies teeming with wildflowers and native grasses. The trail is open for hiking, bicycling, and cross-country skiing.
  • Downtown Libertyville and Grayslake: Enjoy the many shops and restaurants the villages of Libertyville and Grayslake have to offer. Stopping over in the local towns is a great way to show how conservation and eco-tourism can benefit local economies.

Learn more about Openlands conservation efforts in Lake County.

Preserving Farmland and Cherished Family Memories in Support of Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge

When Elena Spiegelhoff inherited the family farm in McHenry County, she wanted to protect the farmland and natural features she had known since childhood. The farm had been in her family since 1950, first in the care of her parents, and then her brother, Eugene. But Elena knew she couldn’t care for the farm forever.

Elena speaks with fond memories of this family home in Richmond: growing up, the family horse would plunge her into the Nippersink Creek on hot summer days, her grandmother would spend their summers working in her garden and using the farm house table for baking; Elena would climb to her hillside “secret garden” hidden among the oak trees that would produce the “best tasting melons in all of [McHenry] County,”; and she would walk the land as a kid in the company of her two dogs. How do you part with a place you hold so dear?

Elena wanted to ensure her family’s farm was preserved and that it can be a place for future generations to appreciate. Her deep love and respect of the land led Elena to a partnership with The Land Conservancy of McHenry County (TLC) and Openlands. Today, we are pleased to announce that we have permanently protected the land that Elena loves.

 


This was a prime opportunity for Openlands to support Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge. Hoffmann Farm, which honors the family name, is 153 acres sitting within the greater refuge area. In May 2018 we completed the process to protect the farm: first, together with TLC, we helped Elena place a conservation easement on her property before purchasing the protected land. We are now working with a sustainable farmer to keep the land healthy and productive in its new role as a native plant nursery.

Hoffmann Farm also presented an opportunity to preserve some local history as well as high quality natural resources. Elena’s brother Eugene was an avid fan of model trains and formerly operated a small model train on the farm for local residents to enjoy. While that service is no longer running regular trips, Elena wanted to make sure her brother’s legacy wasn’t paved over as a mall or subdivision, and portions of the old model train tracks now remain on the land.

The oak-hickory woodland that served as a backdrop to so many childhood adventures has been protected and we will help that ecosystem thrive. Finally, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service structured Hackmatack around the many small waterways that comprise the Nippersink Creek watershed, and Hoffmann Farm straddles half a mile of some of the most pristine waters in the creek’s North Branch, providing substantial support to habitat and wildlife in the region.


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Hoffmann Farm is one of five sites Openlands is currently working to protect in support of Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge. Like the farm, these projects are the result of partnerships with willing sellers or private landowners who place conservation easements on their land. As Openlands continues to protect new areas within the greater refuge area, we are interested in exploring multiple land-use strategies to protect natural resources, promote a culture of conservation, help the region thrive, and ensure working agricultural lands remain healthy and productive. Red Buffalo Nursery will now operate on Hoffmann Farm, providing native plants both for purchase and to assist with landscape restorations throughout the region.

Agricultural conservation easements, like the easement at Hoffmann Farm, can ensure that farmland remains protected. These practices lead to healthier soil, cleaner waters, and a better home for wildlife. Openlands is excited to work with small and new farmers for the benefit of local communities and our region’s sustainable agriculture.


While it took some time to protect her home, Elena Spiegelhoff stood by this vision, and we cannot thank her enough for sharing her love of the land with us. We are honored to assist landowners like Elena who share our passion for land conservation. Many thanks to our partners at the Land Conservancy of McHenry County, to Grand Victoria Foundation and the Natural Resources Conservation Service for their vital support, and to the early leadership in this project provided by Liberty Prairie Foundation and Food:Land:Opportunity, an initiative of the Kinship Foundation and the Chicago Community Trust, funded by the Searle Funds at the Chicago Community Trust.

For more information on Openlands’ regional land conservation work or on Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge, please contact landpreservation@openlands.org.

Explore Your Lakes and Rivers Returns This Summer!

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.

Openlands facilitates paddling events and workshops around the region at local parks, along the region’s water trails, or in county forest preserves. These workshops are open to the public, free of charge, and are often coupled with volunteer and stewardship opportunities such as a park cleanup or river cleanup. With the assistance of several partners, canoes and kayaks are provided and first-time paddlers are encouraged to join us!


paddlers

Openlands has a series of workshops and paddling events set for summer 2018! Mark your calendars with the dates below and be sure to email paddle@openlands.org so we can keep you up-to-date as we finalize plans for these trips.

Join us on Saturday, June 2 for our first event of the year, our annual cleanup of the Little Calumet River launching from Kickapoo Woods! We will be removing trash and debris from the Little Calumet River from our canoes, and free canoe and kayak lessons will be offered to volunteers. The section of the Little Calumet that flows through Kickapoo Woods is a shallow stream, great for beginners and families with children. It is also a great place to see wildlife such as turtles and great blue herons.

This summer we will also host a series of paddling events on Lake Michigan! Enjoy the trail by paddling on Lake Michigan in large, guided, beginner-appropriate voyageur canoes, and learn about opportunities for recreation, education, and stewardship along Illinois’ northern Lake Michigan coast!  All events include beginner-friendly paddling experiences and other family friendly activities. People of all ages, skill levels, and abilities are welcome – bring your family and connect to Lake Michigan! Learn more…

  • Saturday, June 30, 11am – 4pm, North Point Marina, 701 North Point Drive, Winthrop Harbor, IL 60096
  • Sunday, July 1, 11am – 4pm, Illinois Beach State Park, enter on Wadsworth Road, 1/5 mile east of Sheridan Road, Zion, IL 60099
  • Friday, August 3, 1 – 7pm, Waukegan Harbor, 55 S. Harbor Place, Waukegan, IL 60085

Be sure to sign up to receive Openlands’ newsletter for information on upcoming paddling events!


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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.

Invite Nature into Your Garden with Native Plants

Spend some time speaking to a conservationist and you’ll likely hear us talk about native plants, and while the name may be logical enough, we don’t often describe what they are, what makes them unique among other plants, or why we should plant them.

Native plants have been growing in the region for centuries, well before European settlement. They are born in our landscapes and are key to our ecosystems. These species evolved here over thousands of years in fire-adaptive soils — soils that would frequently experience wildfires — and in lands carved by glacial retreat after the last Ice Age. They also provide food and energy to the many species of birds, butterflies, and wildlife that share our home in this region.

You’ve probably heard of some native plants already, such as milkweed, coneflowers, and asters. Even among those, however, not all varieties of one particular plant are native to northeastern Illinois. For example, common milkweed and butterfly milkweed are native to the region, but other varieties such as white-stemmed or green-flowered milkweed, are not, and native plants are more than flowers and grasses, they also include trees and shrubs such as sugar maple, northern catalpa, and bur oaks.


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In ecosystem restorations, we plant native species to improve the health of habitats, but you can continue this work on your own property by including native species in your home garden or your local community garden.

Bringing native plants to your garden is an easy and excellent way to invite nature in. Native plants are hardy and often require little watering. Their deep roots aid in water purification and rainwater absorption, and some even grow best in areas where water collects or flows. Native plants are also great for any landscape of any size, and there are a wide variety of species to choose from. However, the optimal location for a native plant depends on the species.

Openlands has made it easy to plant native species this year through our Native Plant Sale. Through the Native Plant Sale, the public can purchase trees, shrubs, flowers, ferns, and other plants for their homes and properties both online and at an on-site store. We will accept online orders from Thursday, March 29 through Sunday, April 29. Orders must be picked up between May 18 and May 20 from 9am-3pm at Almond Marsh Forest Preserve, located at 32492 N. Almond Rd. in Grayslake.

Our pop-up shop will be open from May 18 to May 31 (closed Mondays and Tuesdays), 9am-3pm at Almond Marsh Forest Preserve, located at 32492 N. Almond Rd. in Grayslake, Illinois. Plant experts will be available to assist shoppers at the on-site store.

The native species for sale are not available at traditional nurseries and garden centers. The curated selection being offered is chosen specifically for the plants’ landscaping aesthetics and suitability for private properties, and they’ll look great in your garden!

Proceeds from the sale go towards Openlands and help support programs such as the restoration of the Liberty Prairie Reserve, Conservation@Home, and regional advocacy work. Openlands members receive 10% off purchases using the code mailed to them. Become an Openlands member.

Celebrate Earth Day Around Chicagoland

Earth Day is celebrated on April 22, but there are celebrations taking place all weekend long. We want to share some ways you can enjoy and protect the planet! 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.


Saturday, April 14

As a follow-up to last year’s March for Science, head to the Field Museum to Speak Up For Science. This is the follow-up action to last year’s March for Science. Come meet scientists, learn about concrete ways you can fight for the planet, share your voice with legislators through a postcard-writing campaign, explore the Field Museum, and more! Learn more.

Openlands is looking for volunteers to help restore the Liberty Prairie Reserve in Grayslake, Illinois. Volunteers will help each workday by removing brush, plant trees, or spread native plant seeds. Learn more.


Saturday, April 21

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 at Morrill Elementary School in the Chicago Lawn Neighborhood. Be sure to register as a volunteer if you’re interested.

Friends of the Parks is organizing their 29th 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.

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 a number of restoration workdays at sites across the county. Learn more.


Sunday, April 22

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, wildflower hikes, canoe trips, volunteer restoration projects, and more. Check out their full list.

At the Morton Arboretum, unleash your inner champion as you run a 10k through a springtime morning surrounded by trees from around the world. The challenging course follows the Arboretum’s east side main route through rolling terrain. Learn more.


Get Outside!

Get outside in the Chicago region, enjoy spring in bloom, and celebrate the planet. Consider a hike at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, paddling on the Nippersink Creek, or a bird walk in your local park. A few more of our favorite places to get outside include the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve, North Park Village Nature Center, and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

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.