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Relishing a ravine: Rambling through Openlands Lakeshore Preserve

The view of Lake Michigan from the bottom of the Bartlett Ravine at the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve in Highland Park.
Credit: Dale Bowman

When the crows cawed, I watched them chase a big bird into a lakeside tree.

I assumed they were harassing a great horned owl in the daylight.

But when I walked toward water at the bottom of Bartlett Ravine, a mature bald eagle lifted off with crows chasing it over Lake Michigan.

Welcome to the 77 acres of Openlands Lakeshore Preserve by Highland Park.

Wednesday turned out different, but wonderful.

Because of a massive rain-stalling traffic jam I missed a tour of two North Shore ravines (there are about four dozen from Winnetka north). Openlands staff define a ravine as “a small, narrow, steep-sided valley that is larger than a gully and smaller than a canyon, that is usually worn by running water.’’

Instead I wandered Bartlett Ravine alone, marveling. Splashing of water was the constant background, spiced with an occasional passing distant vehicle.

“The ravines are such a different ecosystems,’’ said Linda Masters, restoration specialist for Openlands.

There are many of plants that you see in oak savannas, but some are unique, plants you might only see farther north, because ravines almost have their own climate with cooler air funneling up from Lake Michigan.

One of my hopes in life is a useful integration of wild spaces realistically into the 21st Century world.

I think OLP does that in integrating the neighbors and in incorporating art into the wild.

"Leaf Prism,'' one of the artworks by Olivia Petrides at the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve. Credit: Dale Bowman

“Leaf Prism,” one of the artworks by Olivia Petrides at the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve.
Credit: Dale Bowman

The art hit me right off.

On the underpass walls, the “Arc of Nature’’ mural dominated. The Chicago Public Art Group did it with special credit to Ginny Sykes, Augustina Droze, Jim Brenner and volunteers.

Sharon Bladholm’s bronze casts, “Soil: Alive with Life,’’ fit low. Olivia Petrides had three colored aluminum columns: “Leaf Prism’’ (photograph, right) and “Earthbark Prism’’ in the ravine and “Lake Prism’’ near the water. There were graffiti-influenced murals on retaining walls by students at Marwen.

In a hint of the future, crows cawed to the sides, where expansive houses sat. The ravine is part of the community. There is cooperation with the 24 landowners along the border, and buffers are being established.

“How they manage their lands directly affects our land,’’ Masters said. “It can cause slumping into our ravine.’’

Neither the landowner above or the ravine holder wants “slumping.’’

While I rambled the ravine, I passed a couple strolling and a woman walking her dust-mop dog. Dog walking is permitted (obviously, dogs must be curbed), but not on the beach. Fishing is allowed at the lake.

I heard a red-headed woodpecker call. Masters said they nest there.

Some of the early June color along Bartlett Ravine. Credit: Dale Bowman

Some of the early June color along Bartlett Ravine.
Credit: Dale Bowman

The most natural color I saw came from wild geranium, false Solomon seal, trillium and wolf’s milk (I think) on a downed wood chunk. Masters said some rarer plants include buffaloberry and golden sedge. Other ravines on the North Shore have yellow lady slipper. “I would love to have that,’’ she said.

On the beach, there is Marram grass. “It helps stabilize the sand, really withstands the forces of the lake waves,’’ Masters said.

They started to monitor for bats–two or three species migrate through–and for frogs.

Modern wild magic builds.

I took a last pondering of “Arc of Nature,’’ trying to figure if the underpass mural fit.

It was time.

OLP is open 6:30 a.m. to sunset. Click here for information on the preserve.

``Arc of Nature'' mural at Openlands Lakeshore Preserve. Credit: Dale Bowman

“Arc of Nature” mural at Openlands Lakeshore Preserve.
Credit: Dale Bowman