BY ANDREW MORKES, FOUNDER & AUTHOR OF NATURE IN CHICAGOLAND
The Chicago metropolitan area (as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau) consists of nearly 11,000 square miles. In this vast area, there are a plethora of awe-inspiring nature destinations. There is Lake Michigan, our vast inland sea, which offers an amazing interplay of sky and water as the seasons change; the Chicago River and other area rivers, which are gradually being restored from their criminal lack of stewardship to be healthy enough to host beavers, river otters, a vast range of fish and other aquatic life, and kayakers and boat tours; and the lush, sometimes hilly forest preserves of Cook County, the collar counties, and other counties, where, if you pick the right spot, you can walk all day without seeing another person. In addition to lakes, rivers, and forests, Chicagoland features a wide range of natural habitats—from savannahs and swale ecosystems; to wetlands, fens, bogs, and marshes; to prairies and sedge meadows.
But people who do not have access to a car may feel that these destinations are out of reach. But this is untrue. Our area’s vast transportation system—Metra, South Shore Line, and CTA trains, as well as buses and Divvy—allow the carless to access some amazing places. Identifying nature spots that can be visited via public transportation may seem daunting, but a new book, Chicago Transit Hikes: A Guide to Getting Out in Nature Without a Car, by Lindsay Welbers, provides all that you need to know to enjoy Chicagoland nature via public transportation. This useful book not only spotlights nature destinations that can be reached by using public transportation, but also provides information on train and bus lines, schedules, the distance from station to trailhead, degree of hiking difficulty, family friendliness, and other details that will make your explorations easier and more rewarding. I recently talked with Lindsay about her book.
Q. Can you tell me about your book, Chicago Transit Hikes? What inspired you to write the book?
A. I was inspired to write Chicago Transit Hikes after moving last year. I lived in an apartment in Logan Square for about a decade, and I always felt like it was pretty easy to find nature, even though I was living in the middle of this dense, urban neighborhood. I was two blocks from the 606 and Palmer Square, I could take a walk down the Boulevards to get most places that I wanted to go. When I moved to a house in Jefferson Park, it wasn’t exactly as easy to find nature. I have a whole backyard here, but I can’t sit down in the parkway and crack open a book. I wanted to find out where I could visit nature from my new home, which just so happens to be located near two Metra lines and the Blue Line. So I started there. Where could I get outdoors on those lines? Then I did it for every other train line around here. At the end, I had written a book.
Q. What criteria did you use to select sites?
A. I had a few criteria I considered when deciding which spots would be included, but they could be summed up as “is this worth it?” A few places didn’t make the cut because they were too far from the train station, or the parks themselves didn’t have sufficient space and amenities. I didn’t want to send people to neighborhood parks, I wanted to find out where you could have an immersive natural experience, and get there without a car. If the hike at the end of a long trip was short, lackluster, or actually just a neighborhood park, it didn’t make it into the book. There were a few places that didn’t make the cut because I couldn’t find a safe way for pedestrians to walk there from the train station. If I couldn’t recommend you go safely, I wasn’t going to recommend it at all.
Q. What were a few of your favorite destinations that you included in the book?
A. I can’t speak highly enough of the following places, especially in the wintertime.
- Somme Preserves, Northbrook, IL
- Skokie Lagoons, Hubbard Woods, IL
- Hawk Hollow Forest Preserve, Hanover Park, IL
Q. Did you learn anything new about nature areas in Chicagoland and/or its transportation infrastructure in the course of writing the book?
A. I did! I learned a ton, actually. I finally became familiar with the suburbs, and I learned a huge amount about the natural landscape in the area. There’s a reason that you can’t talk about how flat it is around here without talking about glaciers that receded 10,000 years ago; it’s because we’re still reeling from the scars they left on the landscape. There are at least another dozen places that didn’t make it into the book, only because I ran out of space. The Chicago area doesn’t necessarily have a reputation for being very outdoorsy, but considering the beautiful and abundant green spaces around here, there’s no good reason for that.
Q. Any special advice for people who use public transportation to access our area’s nature destinations?
A. Dress for the weather, bring enough water, and put your phone down when you get to the trail head.
Copyright (my text and photos as marked)
Lindsay Welbers holds copyright to her interview and book cover photo.
2021 BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT
Looking for more great nature destinations in Chicagoland? If so, I just published Nature in Chicagoland: More Than 120 Fantastic Nature Destinations That You Must Visit. It features amazing destinations in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Click on the title to learn more.
ABOUT ANDREW MORKES
I have been a writer and editor for more than twenty-five years. I’m the founder of College & Career Press (2002); the editorial director of the CAM Report career newsletter and College Spotlight newsletter; the author and publisher of “The Morkes Report: College and Career Planning Trends” blog; and the author and publisher of Hot Health Care Careers: 30 Occupations With Fast Growth and Many New Job Openings; Nontraditional Careers for Women and Men: More Than 30 Great Jobs for Women and Men With Apprenticeships Through PhDs; They Teach That in College!?: A Resource Guide to More Than 100 Interesting College Majors, which was selected as one of the best books of the year by the library journal Voice of Youth Advocates; and other titles. They Teach That in College!? provides more information on environmental- and sustainability-related majors such as Ecotourism, Range Management, Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Built Environment, Sustainability Studies, and Sustainable Agriculture/Organic Farming. I’m also a member of the parent advisory board at my son’s school.
In addition to these publications, I’ve written more than 40 books about careers for other publishing and media companies including Infobase (such as the venerable Encyclopedia of Careers & Vocational Guidance, the Vault Career Guide to Accounting, and many volumes in the Careers in Focus, Discovering Careers, What Can I Do Now?!, and Career Skills Library series) and Mason Crest (including those in the Careers in the Building Trades and Cool Careers in Science series).
My poetry has appeared in Cadence, Wisconsin Review, Poetry Motel, Strong Coffee, and Mid-America Review.