South Shore Nature Sanctuary, a ‘way to feel connected to the Earth ... in the city,’ turns 20

South Shore Nature Sanctuary is “a special way to feel connected to the Earth right here in the city.”

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A council ring by the edge of Lake Michigan at South Shore Nature Sanctuary.

A council ring by the edge of Lake Michigan at South Shore Nature Sanctuary.

Dale Bowman

I wandered into South Shore Nature Sanctuary — a place I had brushed by a few times before — last September before an event at South Shore Cultural Center Park.

My favorite part was stopping by the council ring on the shore of Lake Michigan and looking east as northeast winds slopped waves on the rocky shore, spritzing spray.

Council rings were a hallmark of great Prairie-style landscape architect Jens Jensen, who ‘‘believed these council rings were very democratic places,’’ according to the Chicago Park District’s description.

Finding solitude in the middle of one of the world’s great urban areas is no small feat.

So I took my time to savor being alone in the seven acres with ‘‘many types of habitats, including dunes, wetland, oak savanna and prairie.’’ Park-district nature department staff said the ‘‘location along the lakefront makes it an ideal habitat and oasis for migrating species like birds and butterflies.’’

I spent much of my time trying to identify a multitude of plants, especially enjoying the stages of late-season milkweed and milkweed bugs.

A milkweed bug on milkweed last fall at South Shore Nature Sanctuary. Credit: Dale Bowman

A milkweed bug on milkweed last fall at South Shore Nature Sanctuary.

Dale Bowman

The sanctuary has reached another stage, turning 20 on June 30. Weather delayed the all-ages celebration to 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, with a musical performance by Lia Kohl, sunprint art, tours and vegan treats.

In asking about the celebration, I found Susannah Ribstein, a volunteer community steward at the sanctuary. She started talking to the park district about establishing a volunteer stewardship program there in 2017. The first full season of volunteering was in 2018.

‘‘I love spending time at the Nature Sanctuary myself because it’s beautiful, peaceful and a special way to feel connected to the Earth right here in the city,’’ she emailed. ‘‘I also know that natural spaces like this one are crucial to the mental, physical and social well-being of my community, especially since South Shore and the rest of the South Side of Chicago has been so disinvested over the past decades.

‘‘I wanted to start a community stewardship program at the Nature Sanctuary because I saw that not enough people knew that this resource was there for them to take advantage of, and I wanted to do what I could to change that and make sure that the space remained protected and beautiful for everyone to use.’’

Being a steward anywhere isn’t just about workdays; it’s also about educating and communicating.

‘‘For example, people would tell me they thought that the space was abandoned because the landscaping wasn’t as manicured as the rest of the park,’’ she emailed. ‘‘So there was an opportunity to help educate community members about the philosophies of natural areas management and also to provide a voice for the community back to the Park District — expressing those concerns and needs to the people who manage the space.’’

When I asked whether she would recommend being a volunteer steward, she replied: ‘‘Yes! It’s been such a great way for me to learn about nature . . . by observing plants and animals year-round in the space.

‘‘Even more importantly, it’s an opportunity to meet neighbors who share the same interests . . . in learning about and protecting natural spaces, but also generally people who are civic-minded and care about volunteerism and community.’’

To become involved in the community steward program, gotochicagoparkdistrict.com/communitystewardship.

More about the sanctuary, including directions and parking, is at chicagoparkdistrict.com/parks-facilities/south-shore-natural-area.

Fall colors last fall at South Shore Nature Sanctuary. Credit: Dale Bowman

Fall colors last fall at South Shore Nature Sanctuary.

Dale Bowman

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