By Kristin Larson
For Sun-Times Media
It’s that time of year again. You don’t have to travel beyond the city limits to be dazzled by gorgeous displays of fall foliage. Just head to one of the many city parks — Chicago boasts 580 parks, total — and prepare to be wowed.
“Any of our large parks, you’ll get the most bang for your buck,” says Barb Wood, deputy director of cultural and natural resources for the Chicago Park District. The key? “You want a park that has large, mature trees because you get the best fall color.”
The native Midwest trees, which are predominantly a mix of Hackberry, Linden, Ginkgo and Kentucky Coffee trees, tend to lend warm yellows and golden shades. “You get oranges and reds from Maples, which are not as common but we do have them,” says Wood, who runs the city’s tree planting program.
Leaves begin to turn in early October and things should be in full peak by mid-October, Wood says. “Whether it will be great fall color and it will come early or it will be late color, you never know,” she says.
For a dose of that magnificent burnt orange fall color, head to Promontory Point Park, located in Burnham Park at 55th Street along the lakefront.
Sugar maples were planted specifically at the historic park to provide shade. “It’s a very fun place when the Sugar Maples are turning,” Wood says.
Grant Park, meanwhile, boasts the largest stand of American Elms left in the country, as the trees were disseminated by Dutch Elm Disease in the 1950s and 1960s. The trees were planted close together in an intentional formal fashion to evoke a column, Cathedral-like effect.
“Grant Park was conceived as a very formal space and the trees were planted in this formal way,” Wood says. “The Elms get, in a really good year, a beautiful golden yellow. In a bad year, they turn brown and fall off.”
The rest of the city parks, such as Lincoln, Humboldt or Jackson Parks, were designed prairie style, to highlight the natural local landscape. So, “you’ll be in these large grassy rooms that are enclosed by a mix of fall trees,” she says. “that jacks down to ornamental trees. You feel like you’re in a native landscape.”
Other large city parks that should boast impressive fall color include: Washington Park, between Cottage Grove Avenue and Martin Luther King Drive, and Marquette Park, spanning 323 acres, it’s the largest park on the southwest side of the city; Columbus Park, Garfield Park, an 184-acre park in East Garfield Park, and Douglas Park, and to the north, Riis Park and Portage Park.
And don’t dismiss the neighborhood parks interspersed throughout the city as a great way to enjoy fall foliage.
“If you can’t get to a large park, just look around. There are trees all around you and you can enjoy that pretty much anywhere in the city,” Wood says. “I always say a park without a tree is really just a lawn.”