Eager with anticipation, Forward Chicago’s Walking Club recently visited the newly opened West Ridge Nature Preserve.
Following a ribbon cutting ceremony in September, the Preserve — drably named Park No. 568 by the Chicago Park District — comes into its next phase of life along with a great deal of history and intrigue.
The almost untouched plot of 20.5 acres sat for decades, somewhat hidden and fenced away within the expanse of the 350-acre Rosehill Cemetery. The City bought it in 2011 for $7.7 million, and the Park District awarded a contractor $4.5 million in 2015 to develop it as a city park.
Tucked in by Western Avenue to the West, Peterson Avenue to the North, and the Rosehill Cemetery to the East and South, the Preserve includes a large, elongated pond encircled by meandering pathways, overlooks, benches, and wetlands-friendly decking and platforms.
Pre-opening development included the removal of “invasive” vegetation and trees, new plantings, the addition of walkways, benches, bird and bat houses, and a water fountain near the entry gate at Ardmore and Western.
Native flora will be planted, along with twice as many trees and shrubs as were removed during the park’s development, Tim Czarnecki, Ald. Pat O’Connor’s 40th Ward chief of staff, told a community meeting earlier this year. The introduction of bluegills and other native fish are planned for the pond in the spring.
Our walk saw the Preserve in transition, looking more like a new recruit with a crew cut. The plucked landscape, flecked with new plantings, hinted at the promise of the Chicago growing seasons to come.
Our group anxiously wondered and speculated about how each year will bring increasing beauty to the Preserve. This will no doubt become a yearly outing for our Walking Group.
Perhaps the most interesting historical park detail is what was found there:
Phil Millhouse, an archeologist with the Illinois Archeological Survey, said he and his colleagues performed “shovel tests” on the site earlier this year when they came across fragments of arrow points, knives, ceramics and possibly a cooking kit.
“It turned out there was a very large prehistoric village on that ridge of sand and gravel that runs off the lake,” he said. The “enormous” site surrounded by wetlands had been occupied possibly thousands of years before Europeans settled the area.
With a restriction of no pets, yet provisions to encourage public fishing and boating on the pond, a simmering dialogue remains that debates the role of the Preserve as a nature reserve or entertainment venue. In our 45-minute visit, I believe our group was able to enjoy it as a good bit of both!
There are rumblings to go to the 606 Trail as well …