If you visited the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve in Fort Sheridan during a weekday this autumn, chances are you shared the preserve with a gaggle of schoolchildren as well, but they were visiting for more than a leisurely stroll.
These students were trying their hand at being naturalists by recording their observations of the preserve. They observed seasonal changes and compared the microclimates of the ravine, shoreline, and bluff areas. In preparation for their visits, students modeled the process of erosion in the classroom so they could better understand the impacts of erosion on-site. These trips allowed students to engage with nature while also helping teachers to meet the science curriculum expectations of the new Next Generation Science Standards.
This outdoor classroom experience is part of Openlands’ Eco-Explorations program. Eco-Explorations brings third grade, fourth grade, and high school classes out to the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve for experiential environmental education. This autumn, over 500 students have visited the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve through Eco-Explorations.
For many students, these trips are the highlight of the school year. For some, it is the first time they have visited the Lake Michigan shoreline.
Classes that participate in Eco-Explorations are from a Chicago school that has partnered with Openlands through Building School Gardens. Twenty classes are participating this year, and each one will return to the preserve in the spring to continue their observations, as well as to study the preserve’s rare plants and birds.
Openlands is committed to engaging the next generation of naturalists through programs such as these. Thanks to generous funding from the Grainger Foundation, Eco-Explorations is in its sixth year.
The Openlands Lakeshore Preserve is a public nature preserve and is open year-round free of charge. Plan your own visit.
Just north of the City of Chicago sits a mile of lakefront beach and a series of unique ecosystems, which are home to a rich array of plants and wildlife. After 10 years of restoration work, the site has become a natural treasure, earning distinctions as a registered Illinois Nature Preserve and an International Dark-sky Preserve. This is the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve.
During the fall, this preserve is a beauty to behold. The changing leaves paint the bluffs and ravines in deep reds and vibrant yellows, accompanied by the more muted yellows, whites, and purples of goldenrods and asters. Birds hop around the trails and land in the trees, taking a break from their long fall migration. Small mammals like squirrels and chipmunks are also particularly active, gathering up nuts and seeds as they prepare for winter.
In spring and summer you can walk the beach, bring your binoculars to glimpse some rare birds, or take time to explore the rare ravines. The steep ravines were formed by erratic lake levels and glacial meltwater after the last Ice Age about 10,000 to 15,000 years ago! Even in winter the Lakeshore Preserve offers some unique perspectives to appreciate nature.
Then, of course, there is the lake. Visible from all points along the various trails, Lake Michigan provides a gorgeous backdrop for all of this land-based activity. You can walk along the shore, or you can walk the trails on top of the bluffs, almost 70 feet in the air.
Just 35 miles northwest of downtown Chicago, birds and butterflies that once called our region home are making a triumphant return to a special place. They are attracted to this special place because of environmental restoration, the process of returning an area to its natural state in order to restore the health and vitality of the land and water. And now, through the work of Openlands and our partners, you can explore the rare and stunning bird and butterfly species that call this place home.
This extraordinary place, Deer Grove East Forest Preserve in Palatine, IL, is one of the five natural area and wetland restorations Openlands is working on as a part of the O’Hare Modernization Mitigation Account (OMMA) initiative. OMMA seeks to offset the impact on wetlands caused by the expansion of O’Hare International Airport. This project is part of a series of restorations across the Des Plaines River Watershed in conjunction with the Chicago District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Chicago Department of Aviation, and other partners.
25 Bird Species Documented at Deer Grove East
As part of its Army Corps requirements, Openlands monitored and documented the plant species in the restored and enhanced plant communities at Deer Grove East. We also measured the water levels in the upper portion of the site’s soils during growing season to record how the wetlands recovered. Additionally, from 2010-2015, our project consultant Stantec Consulting Services Inc., and the Deer Grove Natural Area Volunteers monitored bird species nesting at the Preserve, along with those passing through during spring and fall migration. We knew that restoration would attract beautiful and rare animals and were delighted by the results. This monitoring confirmed that 25 birds listed under the Species of Greatest Conservation Need (as classified in the Illinois Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Plan and Strategy) either nested at or stopped by Deer Grove East during their migrations. Two bird species on the Illinois endangered list, the American Bittern and Wilson’s Phalarope, have been spotted using Deer Grove’s restored wetlands during the spring migratory season. See the list of 25 bird species recorded at Deer Grove East below.
36 Butterfly Species Recorded at Deer Grove East
Because of the outstanding commitment of the Deer Grove Natural Area Volunteers, and our important partnerships with the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and the Forest Preserves of Cook County, we have been able to document the enchanting butterflies that can now be found at the site. To date, 36 species of butterflies have been documented at Deer Grove East including Monarchs, Swallowtails, Skippers and more. These encouraging findings are the result of our planting plan for the Preserve. Five milkweed species recommended for our region by the Monarch Joint Venture (Common Milkweed, Swamp Milkweed, Butterfly Weed, Whorled Milkweed, and Poke Milkweed) and many nectar plants were all included with the intent of providing habitat for unique butterfly species. See the list of 36 butterfly species recorded at Deer Grove East below.
Deer Grove East reflects success as a restoration model through the critical the support of our amazing partners like the Deer Grove Natural Area Volunteers, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, and the Forest Preserves of Cook County. With partnership, Openlands better connects people to the outdoors through volunteerism, and provides a richer experience for visitors to the site’s trails, picnic groves, and new camping facilities at Camp Reinberg. Learn more about Deer Grove East.
Bird species recorded at Deer Grove East, 2010-2015
Rusty Black Bird
Total Species: 25
Butterfly species recorded at Deer Grove East from 2001-2015 provided by the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
Swallowtails Black Swallowtail
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
Whites and Sulphurs Cabbage White
Hairstreaks/Coppers/Blues Acadian Hairstreak
Eastern Tailed Blue
Brush-Footed Butterflies Ladies and Allies
American Painted Lady
Angel Wings Eastern Comma
Admirals Red-Spotted Purple
Checkerspots Silvery Checkerspot
Fritillaries Great Spangled Fritillary
Satyrs Common Wood Nymph
Little Wood Satyr
Northern Pearly Eye
Spread-winged Skippers Common Sootywing
Silver Spotted Skipper
Folded-winged Skippers European Skipper
Whether you’re looking for a nice place to go for a walk, a place to spend the day outside with your entire family, or wanting to step back in time and feel what it’s like to wander the prairies, you can find it at the beautiful Deer Grove Forest Preserve.
Located in suburban Palatine and managed by the Forest Preserves of Cook County, Deer Grove Forest Preserve is split into to units, East and West. Deer Grove West is a heavily wooded area and supports over 300 unique species of native woodland plants along with a variety of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Deer Grove East, pictured above, is home to an open prairie along with shaded savannas. Together they are a jaw-dropping display of what Illinois’ landscapes resembled prior to European settlement, and at 1,800 acres, you’ll have no trouble finding a spot to enjoy the peace and quiet without the busy bustling of the city.
A paved mixed-use trail wraps around Deer Grove East and some dirt trails meander through the wooded areas. Deer Grove West is home to many more dirt trails winding through the woodlands. Take the time to explore them all, it’s worth it, we promise. You can cross between the two on Quentin Rd, which bisects the preserve, but know that it can be a busy street.
Deer Grove is great for a day outside: the trails are relatively flat and there’s enough variety in the landscapes that you can easily spend a day there hiking. Picnic areas and restrooms are availabe on-site, and bring plenty of water.
Hadley Valley Preserve is located just outside Chicago, and it includes over 700 acres of trails, picnic groves, and restored natural habitat and wide open spaces.
Since 2007, the Forest Preserves of Will County have restored more than 180 acres of native habitat, working in collaboration with Openlands, the US Army Corp of Engineers, the Illinois Tollway (I-355 Extension project), the City of Joliet, the Illinois DNR, and local development. Altogether, about 148,000 individual plants have been planted to restore the wetland areas.
The quality of restoration at Hadley Valley has earned it numerous awards and accolades. Native plants and animals thrive in vast prairie, open savannas, and shaded woodland.
Hadley Valley is a remarkable resource for outdoor recreation as well as for birding and wildlife viewing. Come for day in the sun, soak up some vitamin D, and take in the sweet smell of native wildflowers as they bloom. With just a short trip from Chicago, it’s a great discovery for all nature lovers!
Openlands’ Explore Your Lakes and Rivers series began on Mother’s Day at Ping Tom Park in Chicago’s Chinatown. This series of 11 paddling events is designed to introduce new paddlers from surrounding communities to the Chicago and Calumet waterways. The events also engage people with nature on the rivers in a way that is relevant and fun.
Openlands partnered with Wilderness Inquiry and the Ping Tom Advisory Council for this event. Wilderness Inquiry provided staff and voyager canoes through their Canoemobile program, allowing more people an opportunity to participate. While the Ping Tom Advisory Council helped to promote the event, arranged for Cantonese translation, and provided bathroom access to participants.
For the Ping Tom Park event, the community had the chance to enjoy paddling on the Chicago River, and to discover the wildlife of the park. The canoes were wheelchair accessible, providing increased access. Approximately 200 people from across the city and as far away as Wisconsin attended.
The canoeing adventures started right away on the beautiful spring morning. With a mix of ages and experience levels, groups of eight set out on the water for 30 minutes at a time to explore and have fun. They canoed past birds that flew across and floated on the river. They had the chance to capture spectacular views of the park and the city’s buildings and bridges. All the new paddlers learned quickly and some even signed up for a second trip! By the end of the event, as many as 25 canoes travelled the river.
In the courtyards of Ping Tom Park, visitors enjoyed guided bird walks led by experienced Birds In My Neighborhood (BIMN) volunteers. BIMN is an Openlands program that trains volunteers to engage Chicago Public School students in bird watching in their neighborhoods. Each group had a checklist of birds often found in the area. They searched along the paths and between the varieties of trees in the park. In just half an hour, the five tours found most of the birds on their list, such as the American Robin, the Red-winged Blackbird, and the Black-capped Chickadee. They learned how to identify a few different bird songs and discovered other wildlife in the park as well.
Many visitors were in awe of how exciting it was to explore the river and the wildlife of the park. One mother even expressed how this was the best Mother’s Day she ever had!
Openlands has free and fun Explore Your Lakes and Rivers events through September! Join us and explore the hidden wildlife and natural treasures that are just waiting to be discovered in your own backyard!
We at Openlands love that so many of you are getting outside to #DiscoverYourPlace. The social media campaign puts a spotlight on special outdoor and natural areas in northeastern Illinois, southeastern Wisconsin, and northwestern Indiana.
Many of you have gotten out to explore natural areas you didn’t know existed, while others are highlighting species and habitat that make our region special! These include many of the places Openlands helps to protect, restore, and create for people to connect to. So far, there have been over 300 photos of unique landscapes, vast open space, and special green areas in the Chicago region!
As the weather warms, we’d love to know, “Where are you enjoying the outdoors and discovering new and restored natural areas nearby?” Get involved by tagging your photos of parks, gardens, trails, preserves, native species, restored landscapes and more with #DiscoverYourPlace! Share your photos on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
Check out this interactive map of some of our favorite #DiscoverYourPlace photos on Instagram so far! Do you see a place you haven’t heard of? How many of these places have you been to? Or maybe you’d like to highlight one of your favorite natural areas not represented below! Join us!
To celebrate this treaty, Openlands wants to make Chicagoans aware of Important Bird Areas nearby. Important Bird Areas or IBA’s are internationally recognized places that are chosen for their unique role in providing habitat for birds. These habitats play a vital part in the lives of birds who are endangered or threatened, either by providing breeding grounds, pathways for migration, or places to spend the winter.
Through environmental policy and advocacy, habitat protection, and land acquisition and restoration programs, Openlands has positively impacted IBA’s around Chicago. Just south of the city, we’ve helped to establish natural areas like Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie and save places like Goose Lake Prairie State Park. We’ve restored vital wetlands and other habitats at Tinley Creek-Bartel Grassland and Illinois Beach State Park, and have used our policy wing to advocate for several additional sites. We fought for the Chicago Lakefront Protection Ordinance that keeps our lakefront protected for migrating birds along the Mississippi Flyway.
Here is a list of Important Bird Areas Openlands has helped to protect:
Notably, Openlands and the Forest Preserves of Cook County have worked together since 2001 to expand over 900 acres of continuous grassland habitat at Tinley Creek-Bartel Grassland in southern Cook County. Bartel Grassland was an existing IBA on its own, but in September 2015, Audubon Chicago Region approved adding the Tinley Creek Wetlands restoration areas to Bartel. This more than doubled the overall acreage for this Important Bird Area.
In the end, Openlands wants to make sure these special places are accessible to people from all walks of life. Through our Birds in My Neighborhood Program, we are able to engage Chicago Public School students with nearby nature areas. The program has taken educational visits to Tinley Creek-Bartel Grassland, introducing these children to a rare and unique world of nature and experiences they will never forget.
We hope you venture out and find an Important Bird Area near you!
Over the past year, thousands of generous individuals volunteered their time to help protect Chicagoland’s natural and open spaces. From planting trees, to adopting and monitoring water trails, to accompanying students on educational bird walks, their tireless efforts contributed to a hugely successful year.
Last week, Openlands hosted a reception at David Weinberg Photography in order to celebrate and recognize our wonderful volunteers. “Without their contributions, we truly couldn’t do what we do,” said President & CEO Jerry Adelmann at the event.
Volunteers were recognized for their involvement in programs such as Space to Grow, TreeKeepers, and Birds in My Neighborhood, as well as for the seemingly less glamorous task of stuffing envelopes and writing handwritten personal letters to our donors.
The numbers behind their involvement are impressive:
Last fall, students, teachers, staff, administration, parents, and community members all came together in rain or shine to help plant 30,000 plants in four Space to Grow schoolyards.
Openlands raised nearly $300,000 from handwritten letters to our donors, which directly supports our general operations for the organization each year.
Last year 5,060 volunteers dedicated 35,567 hours of work to forestry activities.
Birds in My Neighborhood’s dedicated corps of over 50 volunteers mentored 725 Chicago Public School students on a quest to learn more about the birds (and nature) in their own community.
The hard work and dedication of our volunteers is what keeps Openlands thriving. We can’t thank them enough! And many thanks to David Weinberg Photography for hosting the event.
As a new staff member at Openlands, I’d love to share with you the game changing environmental outreach happening in Chicago’s urban neighborhoods. This was my first year as a volunteer withBirds in My Neighborhood® (BIMN), an Openlands’ program that engages elementary school students at Chicago Public Schools that have gardens created through our Building School Gardens initiative. Birding volunteers like myself are trained as classroom ‘birding’ teachers and paired with wonderful schools, often in underserved areas. In three visits, we aim to open the eyes of students and teachers to the abundance of nature that exists all around them. During the first visit, we conduct a classroom lesson with the children and provide them with their very own BIMN journals to research a bird of their choosing. During the second visit, we take our first bird walk around the school premises. The last gathering culminates with a field trip to a local nature area where we find new and interesting birds. What an amazing experience!
Openlands board member Dean Fischer and I were paired with Ms. Gorzen’s 4th and 5th grade class at Suder Montessori Magnet Elementary School in East Garfield Park (a neighborhood on Chicago’s west side.) For our first visit, we asked the class what they already knew about birds and what they would like to learn during our time together. You would be amazed at how much these kids knew! “What’s another thing you know about birds?” I asked. “The male Bird of Paradise does an elaborate courtship dance for the female Bird of Paradise” one child answered, followed by a host of similar responses. At the end of our time, our students were pumped about ornithology, and excited to research their bird of choice in their new BIMN journals!
When Dean and I returned for the second visit, the kids were thrilled to see us again and eager to share their research and drawings. Ms. Gorzen happily exclaimed, “It has been a task trying to pull them away from their journals all month!” Check out this stunning piece of artwork in a students journal:
We then packed our birding check lists and quietly ventured to the school gardens to see what we could find. It was the end of April and spring migration was in full swing. A group of girls huddled around me to observe my actions. I was able to teach them how to identify birds looking at their shape, size, field marks, colors, and habitat. They caught on quickly!
“Up there,” one girl whispered. “I see a small one in the tree with black and white stripes on its head, a little yellow, and a white chin.” “That’s a special one that’s not on our check list,” I replied. “A white throated sparrow.” As a parting line, Dean announced to the class, “Each of you are now ‘Citizen Scientists’. Now that you know how to identify birds,” he said, “you can collect data to help protect our environment. You are smart and have an awesome responsibility ahead of you.” “Cool” the class responded, feeling a part of something special.
On May 28, we embarked on our final field trip to Humboldt Park. A vibrant green space nestled within the city, Humboldt Park boasts a diverse habitat of trees, lagoons, and fields – all prime birding real estate. Our species list included Common Terns, a Black Crowned Night Heron, Barn Swallows, Chimney Swifts, Gulls, European Starlings, Red Winged Blackbirds, and more. The class stood in awe as we watched a Garter snake slide in front of us and up a fence.
At the end of the trip, we settled in the grass for lunch, basking in the glory of our perfect spring day. A beautiful moment arose when a student, who we were told had barely spoken a few words at a time all year, burst into joyful song, amazing his teachers and peers. A volunteer from Audubon Chicago Region, our BIMN partner, took some time to flip through a Sibley’s Field Guide with a child who had been diligently researching the Peregrine Falcon.
I want you to know that you make this possible. Often with underserved communities in the city, you see children hunger for nature since it is generally not within their grasp. Because of your support of Openlands’ programs, we are able to feed that hunger, ignite a passion for the abundant world of nature around them, and nurture the environmental stewards of tomorrow.
“Now that I know about this park with all these trees and ponds,” a young girl said at the end of our trip, “I’m going to tell my mom to bring me here. She’ll tell all her friends, and they’ll put it all over Facebook, and soon everyone will know about this place.”
-By Tasha Lawson
Founded in 1963, Openlands protects the natural and open spaces of northeastern Illinois and the surrounding region to ensure cleaner air and water, protect natural habitats and wildlife, and help balance and enrich our lives.