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.