Lurie Garden to Park 566, finding beauty and music in Chicago in natural or wild settings

Somehow Woody Goss and I discovered a mutual love for Park 566.

Considering we just met in early June as I followed Goss around as he birded at Cap Sauers Holding Nature Preserve in the Palos area, that our conversation ended up an obscure park on the South Side was surprising.

Park 566 stretches south from Rainbow Beach Park along the lakefront to the North Slip off Calumet Harbor across from Steelworkers Park.

I walked the entire length of 566 years ago before it was even numbered, trying to learn another way to legally access the winter perch spot at the North Slip. The walk was wonderfully wild, down to going eye-to-eye with a red fox.

Since then, some restoration work has been completed but 566 remains wild.

Goss, a musician best known as keyboardist with the world-trotting funk band Vulfpeck, floored me when he said he was so inspired after birding there that he did a composition: Park 566 (Reprise), available on YouTube. His composition, Steelworkers Park, is also on YouTube.

For some of us, the essence of the outdoors is a combination of wild and isolation, a getaway to clear the head.

In the Chicago area, my favorite such getaways are Mazonia State Fish and Wildlife Area and Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.

In July, when I did a column on South Shore Nature Sanctuary, I offhandedly mentioned I was coming up a top five list of such spots within Chicago in my head. Ken “Husker” O’Malley messaged he would like to see that list.

So Park 566 and South Shore Nature Sanctuary make two of the five.

I was reminded of that list on Sunday as my wife and I walked around after visiting the Cezanne exhibit at the Art Institute. We ended up at Lurie Garden as Jazz Fest provided the musical background.

Considering thousands of people are within blocks of Lurie Garden, it seems a stretch to think of isolation and the natural. But that’s the genius of that urban space. I visit Lurie Garden every chance I get. Every season brings different colors, different scents, different shapes and each time feels like experiencing it anew.

The trick to such urban wild spaces is to carve out personal space of some sort.

More than a century ago, the World?s Columbian Exposition drew 27.5 million visitors more than any other World?s Fair. Many of the record crowd got their first peek at Japanese culture there in 1893 in an unusual exhibit-a garden on Wooded Island south of the Museum of Science and Industry.

JIM KLEPITSCH, CST

For me, the classic such spot would be Wooded Island in Jackson Park, which is truly a classic designed for the 1893 World’s Fair by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.

I learned to love it over the years I regularly covered the Chicago Half Marathon on a September Sunday. After filing my story, I would walk to Wooded Island, where I could let my mind wander virtually alone with only a few like-minded people while just a couple blocks away thousands clustered around the running festivities.

A comforting view of water at North Park Village Nature Center last summer.

Dale Bowman

North Park Village Nature Center holds a similar appeal to me, too. It is a heavily used natural space, but you can make your own alone space easily, whether sitting by the water or walking the woods or hill.

Personal history helps in that head-clearing natural time. When our two oldest were little, we lived a few blocks away and we often went there so I could tire them into nap time.

That time alone and in the natural world has layers of value, some of them very practical.

For the record, Montrose Harbor, Palmisano Park, Steelworkers Park and the confluence of the North Branch of the Chicago River and the North Shore Channel were also considered for this list.

Milkweed pods at South Shore Nature Sanctuary last fall.

Credit: Dale Bowman

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