An Unexpected Pocket of Urban Nature
This past weekend was uncannily mild and sunny. Judy and I decided to visit the West Ridge Nature Preserve, a chunk of land recently detached from Rosehill Cemetery. We had been hearing about this place, but had never been there.
West Ridge Nature Preserve consists of 24 acres in what had been a wild, unused corner of the cemetery.
About four acres are covered by a pond, and there are areas of wetland as well. People had been birding here for years, as the pond attracts many migrants.
In 2011 the land was transferred to the Chicago Park District, and work began on its restoration as a natural area. Fortunately there were already many large shade trees to provide a framework. Native grasses, wildflowers, shrubs and small trees were planted.
Apparently there is fishing here as well, though we didn’t see this guy catching anything.
There were a number of nesting boxes of various kinds. Bluebirds, Kingfishers, Red-Tailed and Cooper’s Hawks, Summer Tanagers, Kestrels, Orchard Orioles, and a variety of warblers are among the birds sighted here.
This Nature Preserve is located along Western Avenue on the Far North Side of Chicago. Western is not an especially charming avenue. It used to be known for its car dealerships, but that was a bygone day. Other businesses have moved in, and this is still a commercial street with lots of traffic and not much visual appeal.
Even so, the location of this park is fortuitous, as this part of the city has a shortage of green space. There were many young families and retirees enjoying the park when we were there.
From inside you can hear and see the traffic as well as the surrounding commercial buildings. With time the shrubs and small trees planted along the outer fence will provide some screening.
We saw nothing in bloom during our walk, but there was a grove of young Witch Hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) that were just about to flower.
Most of the preserve is at least partly shaded. I noticed some shade tolerant native grasses: perennial wild rye (Elymus sp., including Bottlebrush Grass – E. hystrix), and Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium).
There were lots of ducks and other aquatic birds around the shallower southern end of the pond. Other aquatic birds making their home here (at least during the warm weather) include three species of Heron and Double Breasted Cormorants.
People are supposed to stay on the paths and no dogs are allowed at the West Ridge Nature Preserve. Fortunately, an area has been set aside as a children’s playground. It features rustic swings, seesaws, and tents made with tree saplings.
There’s also a “Story Walk”, a path through an area of woods with kid-friendly signs.
Now I wonder how this tree came to be shaped like this, particularly the twisted-looking trunk.
Here’s an area that is more open and elevated, I would think dryer prairie plants could grow here.
After our walk, we went back out onto Western Avenue. We were hungry for lunch, so we gave this place a try. The bartender was Bosnian, the cook Vietnamese. I had banh mi made with Bosnian grilled sausage, which was delicious.
I’m eagerly looking forward to visiting West Ridge Nature Preserve in the Spring, when the wildflowers bloom and the migrating birds arrive. I hope that this place can continue to thrive for years to come, providing sustenance for both birds and people.
Precious things, green spaces in a city.
It looks like a great place to explore and hike. And the restaurant sounds like it would have tasty food. This mild weather has been strange but pleasant.
The food was definitely tasty. Yes the weather has been strange, this weekend is more “normal”.
Green spaces like this are to be treasured, it looks as though this will become a wonderful place for wildlife and not so wild people and their families!
I hope so. I worry a bit that it could be loved to death if it becomes too popular.
This looks like a lovely little patch of wild. I’m really happy to see it being used, too. That gives me hope. It will be interesting to see what you find, come spring.
Lots of wildflowers, I hope. By the way, I think my comments on your blog may be going into the spam folder.
Yes, hopefully. Let me look…
Truly wonderful. And a good lunch too!
We have to go back both for the flowers and for more banh mi! By hte way, I think my comments on your blog may be going into the spam folder.
Wonderful. It is so important for city children to have exposure to a little bit of natural woods. Who knows what difference it might make in their lives. I’m looking forward to seeing some springtime photos. I’m also curious as to whether any of your readers will have an explanation for that twisted trunk.
I agree about kids having some exposure to nature, and not living entirely with stuff they see on screens.
This is an interesting wildlife place close to the bustling city, Jason. I hope the flowering plants and many birds make your photos to look different. Thank you for sharing!
Yes, so important to have green places in a city. However, I also love how after your walk, you went to a place where the bartender was Bosnian and the cook was Vietnamese. This mixing of cultures illustrates the best of what cities have to offer, and perhaps even shows the way forward. A Star Trek vision 😉
I completely agree! Diversity and the mixing of cultures and people is what makes America really great!
If you have access to this place at dusk or dawn I bet there will be Woodcock displaying. It is a treasure in the city.
According to their website there are Woodcock living there. What time of year do they display?
Chicago really must be one of the greenest cities in the world. Lucky you.
I never thought about that. The city government does like to boast about how “green” we are.
What a wonderful looking spot even at this season. And good food just steps away.
The best of different worlds.
A pocket of nature for animals and people! I look forward to your spring visit photographs.
I’m guessing that the twisted trunk may have been caused by a large vine growing up the tree when it was younger. I’ve seen that pattern caused when the vine starts to impede the growth of the tree trunk. The next question for me is why the tree is bent sideways like that – accidental (weight of the vine, for example?) or intentional? Native Americans used to bend tree saplings over to mark a trail, but this tree looks much too young for that explanation.
A vine makes sense – but it must have been a big vine. Wisteria? Oriental Bittersweet?
Trumpet creeper? I can’t remember if that twines. Grape could possibly have done it, though…..
It’s great that they’ve opened it to the public. That should get a lot more people interested in nature, hopefully.
They have a great outdoor learning program, run almost entirely by volunteers.
These pockets of nature are so important and frankly, it’s even better if they are located where young families can use them. Love the artfully twisted tree. Looking forward to seeing it again in the Spring.
Lots of families were there that day – a good sign!
Enjoyed going on your mosey and great to hear that the city has made it a nature preserve for all to explore and appreciate. Good food, it seems, to end the day as well! Our witch hazel already blossomed a couple of weeks ago in Oregon!
You’re lucky to have a much milder climate!
The witch hazel was blooming at the Botanic Garden on Sunday. I was so delighted – and a little worried for it.
Judy saw some Crocuses blooming in a garden with southern exposure. Were the witch hazels fragrant?
My favourite topic …… The need for green spaces in cities. This one looks great & lovely for young families especially..(I love good food at the end of a walk too..)
Very handy to have some interesting restaurants nearby.
Wonderful to have a little bit of wilderness like this in the city. Look forward to seeing your spring pictures.
Every city does need a bit of wilderness mixed in.
City parks are always treasure. I like the sound of the bird life.
They seem to have a very impressive diversity of species. Looking forward to the spring migration!
So nice and valuable to have green/natural space in urban centers. Great shots!
Since it’s getting harder and harder to go from Chicago to a natural area, we need to create natural areas in Chicago.
beautiful, we need more like these in our Urban areas:-) We live down the street from Black Hawks State Park and it is a treasure in the middle of an urban area:-)
Never been to Black Hawk SP, but I’m in the quad cities several times every year. I’ll have to check it out.
It is a beautiful site to visit:-)
Cemeteries can be a great place to see flowers and nature at work. Rosehill was only 3 blocks from my house as a child. And my parents are now there. In the last few days I have launched a cool cemetery website http://www.chicagoandcookcountycemeteries.com. Please check it out. Barry Fleig