Keeping in step at the parks

By Caryl Clem:

April’s monthly theme is for everyone to walk so put on your favorite soles and head for a park while practicing social distancing. Cook County Forest Preserves feature 70,000 acres and over 350 trails to investigate while Chicago’s parks cover 7,600 acres. To locate the scenic 31,000 acres with 206 pathways and trails to explore; the largest selection of endangered and wildlife species in Lake County along the Des Plaines River or the shores of Lake Michigan.

A contest had been held to decide what the best park should offer and the winner influenced the next 50 years of park designs, Frederick Law Olmsted. The New York Central Park in 1857, was a showcase of beauty, a park with rolling landscapes and graceful wrought iron benches. The most frequent visitors were the wealthy. The best roads were there for carriage races held on a regular basis. By the turn of the century parks were constructed for the working class in neighborhood locations.  The love of sports becomes part of park services in the 1960’s.  Parks offers a huge variety of activities from museums, conservatories, cultural centers in addition to exercise.  A majority of parks feature a younger child area with playground equipment and sand boxes. Any park is an adventure to walk through while studying nature. There are interactive maps with GPS available, for instance LCFPD.org/maps.

The Rails to Trails movement idea started in Chicago. May Theilgaard Watts in 1963 wrote to the Chicago Tribune proposing closed Chicago-Aurora-Elgin railroad line was a space to walk going to waste, this was a missed opportunity. In her words, “ if we have the courage and foresight..then from this strip we can create a proud resource.”  Years later, The Illinois Prairie Path Organization turned her words into a reality currently used by over 800,000 people who have walked along the Illinois Prairie Path. Outside of  Chicago, this site offers locations complete with ratings.

The best example of wetlands is in the Spring Bluff forest preserve in Winthrop Harbor that links to the Chiwaukee Prairie in Wisconsin. The 4, 500 acre is the highest quality of coastal area in Illinois and southeast Wisconsin awarded the Ramsar Wetland of International Significance in 2015.

History and culture exploration are offered in several parks; for example The Dunn Museum in Libertyville, Indian Park near the West Rogers Park area’s Cultural Center offering Native American themes to pay tribute to the former Pottawattomie tribes that occupied this territory,  and Chicago History Museum in Lincoln Park . Old roads and horse trails wind through Ryerson Woods in Riverwoods.

For dog owners,  (annual permits required )pawsitivly great spots In Lake County,

   Dog Park Maps
Duck Farm »              Independence Grove »             Lakewood »
Prairie Wolf »             Waukegan Savanna »

For Chicago, check out these trails for your favorite pet.

Currently, many parks are closed so check before going. Spend April walking, even around your neighborhood. Doctors advise a minimum of 30 minutes for at least 5 days a week. When the parks open again, explore and feel the excitement of a new adventure while improving your health.

Dan Ryan Woods/Swallow Cliff Tobaggon

As the winter has finally arrived with snow, I thought about playing in the snow. I did not ski or ice skate but as a child, there was sledding and the closest tobaggon slide was at Dan Ryan Woods in Auburn-Gresham/Beverly. I did not have a toboggan but other friends and parents of friends did. I followed; all bundled up, mainly to watch, but I do remember how terrified I was taking a fast trip down one of the wooden shoots.

When my children were young, it was not Dan Ryan Woods that we visited, it was Swallow Cliff in Palos Park watching my children use the slide. My husband was a skier and he helped them down. Unfortunately, I was too terrified to try. My first time skiing I was in my early twenties before children. I went down a steep slope with a friend at Alpine who tried to show me what to do but I had problems going way too fast and broke my ankle. I never went skiing again. With the exception of building a snowman, winter sports were just not my thing though the hot chocolate and a fire in our fireplace was always appreciated.

Swallow Cliff slides were officially closed down in 2004 but were operable for decades. However, weather had to be cooperative for them to be used with enough snow (at least 4 inches) and temps of 25 degrees or under. The cost to keep them safe was expensive. Constructed in 1930 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, 125 limestone stairs lead to the top of a former toboggan run on Swallow Cliff’s 100-foot bluff.  So in 2016, the Forest Preserves added another set of stairs with an additional 168 steps, creating a full circuit. They do have an active sledding hill during the winter. Just north of the 100-foot bluff and popular fitness stairs, the Swallow Cliff Pavilion is perfect for any occasion and was also built in 2016 with a cozy fireplace during the winter and a kitchen prep area with refrigerator.

Dan Ryan Woods Commissioner found out how popular the stairs at Swallow Cliff was and he actually polled walkers in Palos. He decided to do the same and the project was approved recently. The Dan Ryan Woods now has a brand new set of outdoor concrete stairs made for walking just last year. The 63-step fitness stairs are officially open near the northeast corner of 87th and Western in the forest preserve near Auburn-Gresham and Beverly.

It was just a year ago that I wrote about the storm of 1967 called We Share Our Memories that actually happened this day, over 50 years ago, which was January 26th. We missed school which was the good part, the bad part is the city was not prepared for the disaster. Then there was the storm of 1979. Between 7 and 10 inches of snow were already on the ground, after an earlier blizzard the previous New Year’s Eve. More snow began to fall with a vengeance on the night of Jan. 12, and it kept piling up until 2 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 14. The new snowstorm alone topped out with 18.8 inches on the ground. My mother had taken her first vacation to Hawaii and was scheduled to land at OHare on that Sunday. I was going to pick her up. Fortunately, she got to stay away for a few more days since her flight was re-scheduled and one of the first to fly into O’Hare. The storm of 1999 had wind gusts over 60 miles per hour and 2013-2014 saw its share of snow that totaled over 60 inches.

I have seen enough winter storms over the decades.  As the winter slowly disappears into spring, I am going for a trip on the stairs.