I have been walking, walking, walking through the past ten months (!) of Covid, and perhaps you have, too. Walking to get out of the house, walking to get exercise, to get out of the chairs we sit in all day, to deal with stress, with boredom, and to see something new or at least different. I’ve discovered some interesting places on my walks, mostly close to home. Some of them are new to me, some of them I have seen with fresh eyes.

The other day I took a walk in Lincoln Park, near Lake Michigan, about two miles north of the Loop (Downtown Chicago). I set out to investigate the erosion caused by very high lake levels this past year. The lagoons visible from Lake Shore Drive overflowed their banks, and I wanted to see up close what the damage was. I found so much more than I expected — a nature preserve tucked between the lake and the city.

It says half a mile, but that’s just the boardwalk. It’s easy to get in more steps.

Normally, it can be very difficult to park here, but due to cold weather and Covid, I pulled right up to the curb and parked for free. Here is the lovely nature preserve I found on my way to the lagoon.

Boardwalks circle the pond. The two barns are part of the Lincoln Park Zoo – after all, cows are exotic to city children!

Who knew! This is not a part of Chicago that I come to often — though I do sail by on the Drive headed to the Loop. Boardwalks surround a large pond which is no doubt full of life in other seasons. The preserve was opened in 2010, and was recently certified as a Level II Arboretum, under the auspices of the Lincoln Park Zoo, a wonderful free zoo just to the north.

The pond was frozen along the edges.

Thanks to native perennial plantings, there was plenty of winter interest. I imagine that 25 years ago, this park would have been planted with neat rows of petunias and begonias.

I set off toward the statue of General Ulysses Grant and the lagoon along the lakeshore.

I’m not sure why Grant is here, since Grant Park is along the lakefront by the Loop, and this is Lincoln Park. But he’s been riding his horse along this piece of the lake since the 1890s.

A berm blocks the view of the lake, and the noise of the Drive, making this area feel out-of-the-way, even though it’s actually right in the middle of things. I admire how the landscape designers put this all together — it really feels like a refuge.

Looking at Grant from the east, or lake side. Due to the berm, the preserve has two levels of paths here — I was atop the berm and came down those steps, but there’s also a path at the pond level straight through the base of the statue.

Of course, it helps to visit on a cold day in the midst of a pandemic, if you want to have the place to yourself.

Those parking spaces just below the statue are all filled up in normal times (I personally have gnashed my teeth in traffic jams there). The zoo is free, but that’s paid parking.

Here’s the view from the top of the stairs — the mezzanine of the statue. The first pavement you see is zoo parking, the first water is the lagoon. Then there’s Lake Shore Drive — a beautiful drive along Lake Michigan, which is the final water that you see below the horizon.

You can’t really see it in this photo, but there is lots of goose poop, fortunately all frozen solid. Cars on the far side are on Lake Shore Drive, which goes most of the length of the city, with parkland along most of it and no trucks allowed. (Can one photo caption discuss both goose poop and the beauty of Lake Shore Drive, without some transition?)

Here’s what I came to see — the erosion of the edges of the lagoon. The water was up over the top of those concrete embankments for several months. I have lived in Chicago for over 40 years, and I’ve never seen that.

This lagoon is more than a mile long, and is used for rowing practice by local crew teams, including the first African-American high school rowing team. It is also popular with local fishermen — it’s connected to Lake Michigan, and apparently you can even catch salmon at the right season.

Back on the path in the nature preserve, I came to this fence, beyond which is the zoo. Fortunately for the animals, they are mostly not behind bars, but are in more naturalistic settings. This fence is aimed at keeping people out when the zoo is closed. Past the families and the low wooden railings you see here are habitats for llamas and camels.

It was a gorgeously sunny winter day; the light was lovely.

Chicago sits along the Mississippi Flyway, and is a great place for seeing migratory birds. Here’s an earlier post by Jason about another bird sanctuary along the Chicago lakefront a little further north.

I had been walking east and north to this point. As I turned back south, I had a great view of the downtown Chicago skyline, not very far away.

It was a great walk, and I’m looking forward to going back when it’s blooming and full of life.

Our home garden is under a few inches of snow, but Jason just ordered seeds, and spring will come eventually.

Have you been walking during the pandemic, and what new places have you discovered?

22 Comments on “WALKING IT OFF by the lakefront”

  1. That looks like a nice long walk, Judy. The weather looks nice and sunny!

    We are lucky to be on 4.25 aces in a rural here, and plenty of room to get out and walk about. Haven’t been anywhere new though, with Covid rate rising all around us. Our seeds are ordered and we cleaning up the gardens in preparation for spring.

  2. What a beautiful place! And right in the city. So important to have places like that, both for people and other animals. 😉 We live on a rural road in Maine. Lots of places to walk. About 1/4 mile from our home,very have two ponds—really lakes—that are beautiful in any season.

  3. Thank you for writing about this. I’m agoraphobic, so I don’t travel far from home. My usual haunts have been overrun with people. It’s wonderful to hear about others’ walks and to see their landscapes.

  4. Well, as an Aussie, I must say, it sure does look cold…but also beautiful!
    I enjoyed the walk, the long views of the river, the statue of Ulysses Grant, the nature reserve in such a big city, and the downtown Chicago skyline across the blue skies. Thanks for the walk, I hope you do a few more, it is all new to me! Best wishes to you and Jason.

  5. I have been a volunteer Nature Boardwalk gardener for six years. Please come back in growing season! My favorite time is late August/early September when orange, yellow and blue flowers are predominant. I also love the big stand of 8 foot tall cup plants.

    Don’t try to visit on the days Green City Market meets (unless you also want to shop!) Easiest time to find free street parking is before 10:00. Also, the parking meters on Clark Street, a long block west, are 8 hour meters and relatively inexpensive. Don’t tell!

  6. Hi Judy. Looks like a lovely walk to take on a cold day with a clear sky. We will all be so healthy after this is over as everyone I know has been walking more! We must keep it up too! I recently discovered a lovely woodland walk just a kilometre away… in summer it was too overgrown but in winter the pathway is narrow but accessible and on a snowy day completely deserted. 😃 By the way, I made your beans and tomato recipe. Delicious! Thank you! And best wishes to Jason. 🤗

  7. What lovely photos. It’s been over a decade since I was last in Chicago and it’s good to hear about secret treasures to explore.
    I have two dogs, so I have to walk each and everyday or they wouldn’t forgive me! We usually walk park trails and have a schedule so we can ring changes. Some of our parks are “returning to nature” and so grass is not being mowed. Some of this is due to budget constraints and also the burgeoning environmental movement. It’s fascinating to observe the seasonal changes.
    Seed order time. What is Jason planning on for the growing season?

  8. Ah, I thought there was a place where you could see the skyline while standing in a prairie, and now I know where to find it! Thank you. I’ve been wanting to paint that, but I think I’ll wait until it is warmer and greens up. As you say, spring will come! I wonder how crowded this park gets in the summer?
    Greetings to Jason~happy seed ordering!

  9. If there can be a good side to this pandemic it is this. I’m very happy that it has gotten more people out of doors, though I’d rather they had a different reason for doing so.
    I do a lot of walking but not in a beautiful place like this! You’re very lucky to have it.
    I hope Jason is doing well. I’m glad to hear that he’s planning next summer’s garden.

  10. I’ve discovered nothing as enchanting as Lincoln Park and its Grant statue, but I have enjoyed making it to the south end of the Canal Shores Golf Course. Feels isolated from the rest of Evanston, especially this time of year.

  11. I’ve never been to Chigago and I admire cities that keep a place for people in the centre. We usually walk a lot but we have taken more longer walks as we have had more time. In fact, Google told us we had spent almost as many hours walking as we had in the car, which is not bad when you count supermarket journeys and essential appointments when you live in the country. Amelia

  12. How nice that you all have a number of natural places to visit in your area! Indeed the light was beautiful for your walk and the pics show that. I walk on the school campus across the way most days. When it’s too cold, I put on my earphones and my “happy”playlist and walk, march, and dance inside, lol
    (which is challenging as I live in a small cottage). My seeds are purchased and I’ve started some pea shoots and jazzy microgreens. My best to you and Jason. Spring is coming!!

  13. What an amazing place to walk around. Whatever kept folks indoor that day, pandemic or cold temperatures, you benefited from the pristine views. I particularly love third photo, and it would be fun to compare it to spring and summer views. I tried to take up the challenge of a caption for both goose poop and beauty of Lake Shore Drive… I came up empty 😀

  14. Hi Judy, Your walk looks like it was most interesting. I walk every day but not in such interesting places. We have several parks that we rotate our walks. The primary park we use during winter is a short half mile walk. It is fun to see the changes in the landscape over the seasons. Having a dog makes us get out there daily unless it is pouring rain. We walked in the snow this week. Always a fun event. Not a blizzard mind you but one of those snows where you get those big fluffy pillowy flakes.
    I hope all is as good as can be with Jason. You all hang in there. It is about time to start thinking garden even though you have much more prominent things in life to think about.

  15. Who knew?! Thanks for the info about the nature preserve, as we might just have to check it out when we’re in town again. So many surprises in downtown Chicago…and in the entire area! Yes, I walk at least two miles just about every day. The dog ensures that I get exercise, even in the winter when, in the past, I’d be tempted to be a couch potato. Like you guys, I’m looking forward to gardening season ahead.

  16. I’ve not “taken a walk” for nearly two months, for a variety of reasons. On the other hand, I’m outdoors every day, working on my boats and walking up and down the docks. I was curious, and discovered that just in the course of my work day I put in an east 3K steps, so I’m not wholly sedentary. Now that some life complications have resolved (I do NOT advise car problems!) and the days are getting a bit longer, I’ll be getting back into my routine.

    I really enjoyed seeing these photos. Chicago’s one of those places I know far too little about, partly because I’ve never been there; in fact, I’ve never made it farther east in Illinois than Moline. The more I learn about the natural areas in the state, the more enticing a visit sounds. And even though I’ve enjoyed the your photos of the Botanical Garden, it still surprises me to see so much nature inside Chicago. Obviously, there are a lot of surprises there!

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