BY ANDREW MORKES, FOUNDER OF NATURE IN CHICAGOLAND
With so many of our natural spaces being closed to deter crowds in the age of COVID-19, it’s becoming a little harder to find places to hike, run, stroll, and otherwise enjoy nature. That where “The Ted” comes in. “The Ted,” which is officially named Thaddeus S. “Ted” Lechowicz Woods, is a small forest preserve just off Central Avenue and just north of Elston Avenue. It’s another example of a remnant ecosystem that’s hanging on for life in the asphalt jungle that makes up much of Chicagoland.
While humble in size, it’s a pretty place that features some interesting topography along the North Branch of the Chicago River. Right now, the forest and hills near the river are covered in exuberant gatherings of Virginia bluebells and lesser celandine (which is a beautiful, but very damaging, invasive species–more on lesser celandine later in this story). For two people who’ve been largely sheltering-in-place for the last 6 weeks, seeing the forest filled with flowers made us feel like Dorothy after her world turned from black and white to the bright colors of the fields and hills of Oz in The Wizard of Oz.
My 9-year-old son and I visited Lechowicz Woods yesterday around noon. It’s not a wild place like Red Gate Woods, Cap Sauers Holding Nature Preserve, or Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore that I usually like to visit, but I was happy to be outdoors enjoying nature with my son—without technology and social media. There were plenty of runners, bikers, and strollers, but we largely left them behind as we ventured into the woods. We spotted ducks, and minnows, and water bugs. We heard steady birdsong. We marveled at old trees, the blanket of yellow and blue flowers, and imagined taking our kayak down the river.
Through the trees, we admired the pretty bridge over the river. Cars whizzed by on Central Avenue. We heard a train to the east. Lechowicz Woods is remnant city nature for sure (with a definite problem with invasive species), but still wonderful in its own way. We walked. We explored. It was enough in the time of COVID-19.
I bet Lechowicz Woods is a beautiful and serene place just after sunrise when the woods open, or right before sunset. Give it a try if you’re looking for some exercise and peace amidst the pandemic. Go early or late to avoid the crowds.
“The Ted” is good for:
Lechowicz Woods links up with several other preserves and the North Branch Trail System. (You can actually walk or bike the trail all the way to the Chicago Botanic Garden). Click here for a map to learn more.
Thoughts on Lesser Celandine: What is something that is beautiful and soothing (especially after largely sheltering-in-place for 6 weeks), but extremely destructive to our local ecosystems and the scourge of botanists and environmental restoration workers everywhere? If you answered, lesser celandine, you’re correct. (Lesser celandine is also known as fig buttercup, pilewort, small celandine, lesser crowfoot, buttercup, and dusky maiden.) This plant was native to Europe, northern Africa, Siberia, and western Asia, but was brought to the United States as an ornamental plant and quickly got out of control. The Urban Ecology Center says that lesser celandine is “so aggressive that many native plants that are very important for wildlife just can’t compete. And lesser celandine emerges so early that it has already established itself by the time our native spring ephemerals are just starting to emerge. When our native spring ephemerals appear and start to fight for their space it’s like a football match between first graders and high school seniors: one team has the clear advantage.” You can learn more about lesser celandine, other invasive species, and what you can do to stop these invasives from ruining the diversity of forests, grasslands, prairies, and wetlands at the center’s website. After visiting the Lechowicz Woods Facebook page, I learned that volunteers have been working hard to restore this beautiful area and improve its biological diversity. I look forward to joining these efforts with my son.
Ted Lechowicz served in the Illinois House of Representatives and the Illinois Senate, as well as served on the Cook County Board of Commissioners. Growing up in Chicago in the 1970s through the 1990s, Ted Lechowicz was a well-known political figure in Chicago, but I wonder if many people remember him now? The river of time keeps moving along. In a Chicago Tribune interview after his death, Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin had the following to say about Lechowicz: “He was always someone who was never afraid to express an opinion and was a continuous fighter for what he saw as his constituents’ needs. He certainly was a voice for the ethnic Chicago communities.” You can read the entire obituary and learn about a little about Chicagoland’s political past by clicking here.
Copyright (text, except quoted material) Andrew Morkes
Copyright (photos) Andrew Morkes
2021 BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT
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