Monday, September 23, 2013

Outdoors Chicagoland: North Park Village Nature Center

In April I visited North Park Village Nature Center, a miraculous little jewel of a preserve on the Northwest side, on land that used to be a tuberculosis sanitarium and somehow escaped  development. I didn't manage to post about it, but that's okay, because I went again today and now I get to put pictures from two different seasons side by side.

This pond can be seen from the Wetlands area, which is one of my favorite locations in the preserve. Here's the wetlands path in two seasons.

It looked so different today from my April visit, when foliage were dried, flattened stalks. The variety and wild abundance of plants today was impressive.

You couldn't see anything over this wall of foliage. I think the pond was behind there--in the spring it  looked something like this.

 I love the North Park Village wetlands in their wintry state, too, though. On mild days in the winter and spring, it's the sunniest, warmest place around.

Around the education center in the Woodland area, near the bird blind, the cicadas were out in force. I never noticed this bird blind before.

Near it are feeders, and inside it are signs about different bird types and behaviors you might see according to season.

When I visited in April, there had been abundant rain, and the west side of the woodland area had flooded. 

 It was much friendlier looking today.

Deer are often visible in the woodlands area. I know they're very common--a pest in many areas, a danger because of road collisions--but I still find them majestic and calming. You can see them any time of year. Look carefully: there are two visible in each picture. I wonder if they are the same two?

The Nature Reserve is a real respite from concrete, but we are still in the city, hemmed in on the west and the north by busy thoroughfares, and the traffic sounds are intrusive, especially near the woodland area. My eyes need to not-see concrete, and I love coming to the preserve for that. But my ears need to not-hear city din, and that's harder to accomplish in Chicago.

The Oak Savannah area hosts my favorite tree. I always make sure to go by and say hello.

This time, it was lushly dressed.

I didn't see any snakes this time, as I had in April. When I was a kid, I loved finding pretty, sweet little garter snakes in our tiny front yard. At North Park, a lady walking by pointed this one out.

I picked it up gently, assuring a family watching nearby that it wouldn't bite, and one girl bravely held it herself--those are her hands in the picture. A month after this walk I participated in a restoration project in McHenry County, where the garter snakes are significantly more feisty, apparently, because I picked one up and it nipped me, drawing blood. I'm really glad I didn't get those kids bitten by a snake. That would have been embarrassing.

There are interpretive signs throughout the reserve, though some are quite weathered,  and information about volunteers' restoration efforts.


 I went to the center on a brutally hot day in July to chat (indoors) with the resident educators there, Liza and Sean. They have tirelessly created a multitude of ways to engage with children of all ages. There is a Maple Syrup Festival in the spring, where children learn all about sap and then help tap trees, and Monarchpalooza in the fall, where kids observe butterflies' life cycles and then help tag and release those ready for migration. There are interpretive encounters with birds, bees, trees, bugs, plants, and woodland mammals for school groups and families. Kids participate in conservation and restoration days through the park district's Mighty Acorns and an organization called El Valor, which has sort of adopted North Park as the location for some of its community-building goals. Sean and Liza have created Neighborhood Naturalists, a multi-season, multi-visit program for third grade classrooms. And of course there are camps all summer.

The Center also supports new, independent program ideas--Sean told me one woman organized some open-play mornings for children, in the middle of winter. Everyone was a little anxious about the lack of structure and the freezing temperatures, but the children found plenty to do and weren't bothered at all by the cold.

Community activities for adults abound, as well. There are yoga, fly-fishing, and art classes, story-guild nights and lectures.

I love coming to this urban Island of Children Playing in the Woods. Wouldn't it be amazing if this were what our classrooms looked like? What if kids of all ages read and wrote about seasons, used trees and hills to measure and calculate, leaves and breeze to learn about gravity and friction?

No comments:

Post a Comment