The best North Side park you've never heard ofby Mira Temkin
It's one of the the best kept secrets in the neighborhood and hardly known about on the North Side.
The park with no name or signage, just a number, is Chicago Park District's [CPD] #538, located along Kedzie Ave. between Touhy and Devon avenues, just north of the former Thillen's Stadium. Situated along the east bank of the North Shore Channel are more than 30 acres of tranquil woodlands, grasslands, meadows and a winding river.
This unique habitat features more than three miles of rustic trails for nature walks, hiking and trail running. The more adventurous use the park for cross-country skiing and mountain biking as well as kayaking and canoeing.
The park is one of the newest acquisitions by the CPD. It was created in May of 2005 through a 39-year lease from the Metropolitan Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. While leased by the City of Chicago, it's the only city park located outside of Chicago's borders in Lincolnwood.
"The park is kind of an 'urban Eden' with a unique variety of terrain, flora and fauna," said Larry Yablong, president of the Park #538 Advisory Council and West Rogers Park resident who believed in the potential of the nature park and campaigned to clean it up.
"It's the only nature trail that's totally informal for everything from dog walking to wildlife sightings. Thanks to the efforts of community volunteers, the park and trails are extremely clean, well-maintained and safer than ever before," he said. "The river bank trail has also become an integral facet of the community eruv of West Rogers Park, which creates a wire boundary around public areas, permitting activities within it normally forbidden in public on the Sabbath."
There are three parallel trail loops, each featuring a different type of habitat. People who enjoy the park are determined that this natural area remain essentially unchanged as well as protected from encroachments.
"Because of the various terrains, nature lovers can enjoy an abundance of wildlife," says Yablong. "Along the Savanna trail, for example, there are all kinds of wildflowers that attract butterflies and honey bees. Many types of birds such as blue herons, egrets, hawks, owls, robins, starlets, seagulls, as well as Canada geese and mallard ducks can be spotted."
Beaver, coyote, deer, opossum, raccoons, red fox, river otters and voles are among the mammals seen along the Woodlands and river bank trails. "Lucky boaters have seen large box turtles, sitting on a log," he added.
Yablong says one of his favorite times to visit the park is after dinner, just past dusk "when it's very quiet and the nocturnal animals come out. You'll feel like you're in the middle of Wisconsin," said Yablong, "not Chicago."
Yablong is one of about 20 dedicated volunteers who come out monthly to help maintain the park. "They do everything from putting down wood chips on the trails, weeding out the invasive plants and cutting buckthorn."
Working with the CPD, other improvements in the works include nature trail signage, better access points and eliminating invasive plants and replacing them with native Illinois plants, prairie grass and prairie flowers.
Since 2006, Friends of the Chicago River has held a clean-up event every May which Yablong calls "Mother Nature Day." For many years, both Ald.Debra Silverstein [50th] and her husband State Senator, Ira Silverstein have participated in the event. Throughout the year, many schools in the area sponsor their own environmental science projects. Cross-country running teams from Mather High School and Ida Crown Jewish Academy use the trails for workouts, while rowing teams from New Trier High School and Northwestern Univ. practice along the river.
The revitalization of the park is in large part due to a grass-roots effort led by the Jewish Community Council of West Rogers Park. "The JCCWRP is behind this campaign to take the park to the next level," said Howard Rieger, president of the JCCWRP board. "We want to preserve West Rogers Park for generations and one aspect of this is to overcome years of neglect. We've embraced this project because it's consistent with our mission of strengthening and preserving West Rogers Park as a desirable neighborhood and bringing new amenities to the community," he commented.
JCCWRP is working to get the park's needs addressed through the appropriate levels of government. "We have a strong advocacy committee made up of a cross section of both Jews and non-Jews alike. With our organizational capacity brought into the equation, we're confident we'll find a way to get the signage, access, and visibility that will make Park 538 a better-known and better-utilized resource in the neighborhood. Through our website,www.gowrp.org and community mailings, more residents will find out about the park and come out to enjoy it," Rieger said.
The park is located at 6600 N. Kedzie and is open fromdaily. The trails can be easily accessed from anywhere along Kedzie by entering the Channel through the grasslands. Parking is available along Kedzie Ave.
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