West Ridge Nature Preserve: An Oasis in Chicago

Where: 5601 N. Western Avenue (Intersection of Ardmore & Western), Chicago, IL 60659, Facebook
Open: Dawn to Dusk
Quick Review: Nearly 22 acres of restored woodlands, wetlands, and a pond. A perfect place for a short hike or contemplation. Beautiful hiking trails, fishing access points, a kids’ outdoor play area, and much more.

Western Avenue between Peterson and Bryn Mawr Avenues is an urban speedway. Cars race through this densely-packed neighborhood as if there’s a pot of gold waiting at road’s end in each direction. (Western, by the way, is the longest road—24 miles—in Chicago.) These thoughts passed through my mind as my 9-year-old son and I exited our car after parking on Western.

But within a few seconds after entering West Ridge Nature Preserve, we were in a different state of mind. It is a place of dense green woods, wildflowers, birdsong, and soothing waters. A place of peace and contemplation just steps away from the Chicago pot-of-gold speedway.

Until 2015, what is now known as West Ridge Nature Preserve was an undeveloped part of the historic Rosehill Cemetery (founded in 1859) that had never been used for burials. It’s fetid pond and dense woods served as a dumping ground for excess dirt and debris from the cemetery. Then, after a strong push by community activists, the area was purchased by the Chicago Park District and reimagined as an urban oasis. Invasive plants were removed and replaced with more than 500 native trees and shrubs, a boardwalk and other trails were built, the pond was dredged and otherwise restored, and pleasant overlooks and fishing access points were created. The area is still a work in progress, but what exists now is beautiful, serene, and special—especially in a big city that is always in need of more green space.

My son and I had a wonderful time walking the trail that winds around the pond on a June day that was more like early-May with its cool temperature and chalky cloud cover. Here are 9 things you can do when you visit West Ridge Nature Preserve:

1. Enjoy strolling the boardwalk and other trails that circle the pond, streams, and travel through the woods.

2. Go for a run.

3. Cast your line to try to catch a bluegill or sunfish.

4. Have a picnic along the shore of the pond.

5. Go birdwatching. Some of the birds spotted at the preserve include ring-billed gulls, great blue herons, northern flickers, American goldfinch, song sparrows, red-winged blackbirds, herring gulls, eastern kingbirds, red-eyed vireos, black-capped chickadees, yellow warblers, cedar waxwings, double-crested cormorants, blue gray gnatcatchers, ruby-throated hummingbirds, spotted sandpipers, and scarlet tanagers.

6. See other wildlife such as deer, turtles, coyotes, frogs, and toads.

7. Take your kids to (or act like a kid again at) the Nature Play Space.

8. Participate in a variety of activities, such as kids’ fishing clinics, toddler meet-ups (I assume parents will come along, too), bird and nature walks, and frog surveys. Click here for a list of upcoming activities, including a Community Festival (June 20, 2019, 3-9 p.m.; Rain Date: June 21)

9. Close your eyes, dream, listed to the sounds of birdsong, and recharge your city-zapped batteries.

West Ridge Nature Preserve is a special place that I hope you’ll visit soon. I look forward to seeing the Chicago Park District’s and volunteers’ continuing efforts to revitalize this former dumping ground turned stunning urban oasis. 

After your visit to West Ridge, check out North Park Village Nature Center, just 3 miles directly west. Click here for my article on this north side favorite.

Copyright (text/photos) Andrew Morkes, Founder & Author of Nature in Chicagoland

When I’m not visiting West Ridge and other nature destinations in Chicagoland, I write books and newsletters about careers for teens and adults who want to change occupations. I also write college-planning books and newsletters, including They Teach That in College!?: A Resource Guide to More Than 100 Interesting College Majors, 3rd Edition. You can learn more about my newsletters and books by clicking here.

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