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Nature in the City

Looking for ways to beat the winter blues? There are many natural spaces in Evanston and Chicago where you can connect with nature and appreciate the great outdoors. For any aspiring bird watchers, sustainNU and the University Library created a guide to bird watching and offer bird watching kits that students, faculty, and staff can borrow for free. To check out one of these kits from Main Library, visit Circulation on the first floor or request one on NUsearch. For those living outside of campus, some local libraries in Evanston and Chicago also offer bird watching kits. The winter months, when the trees are bare of their leaves, can be great time to spot birds – particularly for new birders!  

 As we wait to turn the corner on spring, here are a few urban oases in our area.  

 In Chicago  

 Garfield Park Conservatory 

Explore tropical flowers and vibrant greenery in the warmth of the greenhouses at one of the largest botanical conservatories in the U.S. You can also stroll the 184-acre park— which features a lagoon, picnic tables, and athletic fields. While reservations are needed, visiting is completely free. Garfield Park also offers nature education programs and exhibits throughout the year. 

Garfield Park Conservatory. Photo by Eric Allix Rogers

 Grant Park 

Built around the iconic Buckingham Fountain, Grant Park offers activities from ice skating to concerts to museums. While you may think of Grant Park as the site of Lollapalooza, it has much to offer visitors year-round.  

 Lincoln Park 

Lincoln Park includes not only the renowned Lincoln Park Zoo but also manicured gardens, a hidden lily pond, and sweeping views of the city and lake over Nature Boardwalk. The Lincoln Park Conservatory is another place to escape winter and enjoy tropical plants and greenery. Reservations are needed and entry is free, including special exhibits like the upcoming Spring Flower show which begins February 14.  

 Urban Trails 

The Lakefront Trail in Chicago and Evanston provides free access to beaches, birding, cycling, and our beautiful Lake Michigan. In winter or summer, this path provides a bit of an escape from our built environment. The 606 is a true urban trail, winding through multiple Chicago neighborhoods, repurposing space once used as a railroad. The Wild Mile is a unique, floating park on our “other” waterfront, the Chicago River. It showcases a wetland ecosystem, native plants, and river wildlife.  

 In Evanston and beyond 

 Clark Street Beach Bird Sanctuary 

This is the perfect place to try out a bird-watching kit! The Clark Street Beach Bird Sanctuary provides critical habitat for migratory birds. Stop by to enjoy the scenery and wildlife, or sign up for a volunteer session during the spring, summer, or fall to help maintain the sanctuary! 

 Ladd Arboretum 

A source of natural beauty and recreation open year-round, the arboretum holds the Evanston Ecology Center, which offers educational programming. Check out natural history exhibits of fossils and seeds, and then visit the extensive collection of tree species organized by plant family. The arboretum also holds Meadow Garden and the Cherry Tree Walk and maintains a Prairie Restoration Area cared for by community volunteers.  

 Perkins Woods 

The only forest preserve in Evanston, Perkins Woods prides itself on its hiking paths. The native woodland is also a popular birding spot— keep an eye out for the first buds of its distinctive spring wildflowers. You can even give back by volunteering to remove invasive species like buckthorn, honeysuckle, and garlic mustard. Check out the stewardship opportunities here 

 Chicago Botanic Garden  

One species of bird that may be seen in the wintry Chicagoland region: the Cooper's Hawk. Photo by Evan Lipton.

The Chicago Botanic Garden (CBG) in Glencoe is a 385-acre garden with greenhouses and curated outdoor spaces that are accessible all year. CBG’s annual Orchid Show, which starts February 10, is a great opportunity during the colder, winter months.  

 A note on transportation: Chicago’s public transportation system can get you to many green spaces. The Purple Line runs from the Northwestern University campus and downtown Evanston to the Loop, where you can transfer to other lines (e.g. the Green Line to reach the Garfield Park Conservatory) or buses. The Metra and Pace Bus system can get you to the Chicago Botanic Garden and other outlying areas.  

Your Own Backyard 

 These are just a few options to help you think about opportunities to get outside. There are many green spaces in your immediate community and beyond. Maintaining, conserving, and learning to appreciate these areas help make our communities environmentally friendly places to live. We hope accessing these green spaces year-round inspire you to support conservation of our natural areas.  


horner-path.jpg                                                                                        Horner Park Nature Trail, Chicago


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