10 parks to visit during social isolation
Please help us keep this list current. We welcome feedback from Park Advisory Councils and users of the below parks. Email information and concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org. Make sure to follow all CDC recommendations.
- Garfield Park (300 N. Central Park)
Many Chicagoans know Garfield Park for its wonderful conservatory. But we often hear from the local park advisory council that most visitors never venture south of Lake Street to take in other parts of the beautiful park. Check out the “Golden Dome” field house, a gazebo, lagoons, art installations, and lots of geese that are not good at social distancing. Friends of the Parks did various “Walks with Juanita” there last summer on Saturday mornings, and it was never particularly busy except for the walkers.
- Schafer Park/Urban Growers Collective (9000 S. Green Bay Ave.)
There’s not much to behold at Schafer Park as it is a very underinvested park on the threshold of the old USX SouthWorks property, just down the road from the usually underutilized yet now-shuttered Steelworkers Park on the lakefront. Schafer is only crowded for the occasional special event, though there is a useful walking track there. And we were about to launch exercise club activities there with South Chicago senior citizens when COVID-19 shut that down. Still, the park made our list because it is also home to the Urban Growers Collective South Chicago Farm. Though we can’t currently partner with them for their goat yoga, they just launched their Saturday No Contact Pick-up of locally grown vegetables! So why not explore some of South Chicago’s old industrial past along US 41, take a walk at Schafer, and help out your immune system and Urban Growers Collective at the same time by purchasing some produce in isolation! Order in advance and sign up for your pick-up time slot here.
- Big Marsh Park (11555 S. Stony Island Ave.)
From Schafer Park, you might want to head over to Big Marsh. A former industrial site, this is a newer Chicago Park District property in the southeast side Calumet Reserve area spanning 280.13 acres. Referred to as an eco-recreation park, it includes a bike park and a large environmental preserve area, with lots of space for social distancing! Besides enjoying bike trails, you can also find good spots to do some bird watching, so bring your binoculars!
- Douglas(s) Park (1401 S. Sacramento)
How about going to Douglas Park for something other than Riot Fest? It’s a big park on either side of Ogden Avenue with lots of space to roam! And we encourage you to take this opportunity to look into the campaign by 7th grade students from Village Leadership Academy who are advocating for change of the park’s name away from Stephen A. Douglas (a slave holder) to Frederick Douglass (an escaped slave who became a famous orator and abolitionist). You can sign the students’ petition here.
- Dunning Read Conservation Area (4200 N. Oak Park Ave.)
As of 5/4/20 we’ve heard conflicting reports that some people have been able to enjoy this area, while others have been turned away saying it was closed.
Saved from big box development by activist neighbors who called in Friends of the Parks to help, this 25 acre wetland and woodlands parcel which is in the process of being turned over to the Chicago Park District sits behind the Chicago-Read Mental Health center. It’s hard to find, so it doesn’t get a lot of use–which makes it the perfect place to visit now! Wear hiking boots and long pants as the paths are overgrown, and invasives have taken over the place. And maybe so have the coyotes that are sometimes seen there. More likely, you may encounter bird watchers who frequent the space which is open from dawn to dusk.
- Marquette Park (6700 S. Kedzie)
This beautiful park on Chicago’s southwest side has a 9-hole golf course (which is closed) lagoons, and lots of beautiful scenery. It is also the site of a monument to Martin Luther King, Jr., who faced an ugly crowd of protestors when his Chicago Freedom Movement marched in the neighborhood in favor of fair housing. The local alderman had previously asked Friends of the Parks to help activate this park which signals that it doesn’t get as much use as it might. What better time to check it out than now?
- Sherman Park (1301 W. 52nd)
Adjacent to Garfield Boulevard, which is also a good candidate for an isolated walk in a lovely green space, Sherman Park is a treasure of Chicago’s rich park development and landscape architecture history. According to the Chicago Park District website, it was “one of ten revolutionary parks” meant to meet the needs of “noisy, overcrowded immigrant communities” by providing “social services as well as breathing spaces to these areas. Nationally renowned landscape architects the Olmsted Brothers and architects Daniel H. Burnham and Co. designed the whole system of new parks. In addition to Sherman Park, these were Ogden, Palmer, Bessemer, and Hamilton Parks, and Russell, Davis, Armour, Cornell and Mark White Squares. (Mark White Square is now known as McGuane Park.) At 60 acres, Sherman Park was one of the largest of the parks.” We have been there, and we can confirm that it’s worth a visit!
- Riis Park (6100 W. Fullerton)
This park represents more interesting Chicago history, from the steep glacial ridge in the park which once was the Lake Michigan shoreline to the legacy of Jacob Riis, for whom the park is named. According to the Chicago Park District website, he “advocated the creation of small playgrounds to provide ‘breathing spaces’ for densely-populated urban neighborhoods. His 1898 speech at Chicago’s Hull House inspired local reformers to petition for city playgrounds. By the time the Northwest Park District created Riis Park in 1916, the playground movement Riis had helped to inspire had in turn fueled park-building across the nation.” Recently, some neighbors have used the claim that Riis Park is underutilized to advocate for the construction of a Chicago Public School in the park (which, unfortunately, is legal). So go check it out before some of that green space gets gobbled up!
- West Ridge Natural Area (5601 N. Western)
As of 4/10/2020 the West Ridge Natural Area is no longer open to visitors.
Hopefully you won’t meet up with too many people but possibly some deer at the West Ridge Natural Area woodland with its trails, boardwalks, and fishing area. The park land once belonged to the adjacent Rosehill Cemetery, which can also be a nice place for an isolated walk! In fact, the Chicago Park District website describes it this way: “One of Chicago’s oldest burial grounds, Rosehill Cemetery was dedicated in 1859. Landscape gardener William Saunders, a national leader in the Rural Cemetery Movement, created Rosehill Cemetery’s original design which included curving drives, swaths of lawn, and several water features. Through the cemetery’s history, the area at the northwest corner included a pond. Until its recent conversion to parkland, however, the 21-acre site remained an undeveloped part of the cemetery that had never been used for burials.”
- Dan Ryan Woods (S. Western Ave. and 83rd)
As of 5/19/20 certain Cook County Forest Preserves’ parking lots, including Dan Ryan Woods, will be closed on the weekends to deter overuse.
Since once upon a time Friends of the Parks also advocated for the forest preserves before the creation of the Friends of the Forest Preserves, we thought we’d throw in one Forest Preserves of Cook County site in the city limits for good measure. According to their website: “The 257-acre Dan Ryan Woods is a well-loved family destination on Chicago’s South Side, with sledding and snowboarding hills, historic aqueducts, fitness stairs, picnic groves and a mile-long paved loop that connects to the Major Taylor Trail. The site supports a large array of native plants, animals and migratory birds.” We have fond memories of our VIP (Volunteers-In-Parks) Awards ceremony held at the visitor center which is currently closed, as is the nature play area. But there’s plenty of surrounding forest preserve to explore!