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Entries in nature (6)


Easy Outing: Covered Wagon Rides at St. James Farm in Warrenville

St. James Farm Forest Preserve offers covered wagon tours on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and Wednesdays from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. off and on throughout the year. You'll find the tours listed on the Go West Calendar, but here, guest contributor Naomi Krodel tells you what to expect. 

I’m always looking for nearby fun outdoor activities to do in the fall with my kids, especially this year with such pleasant weather. So when I saw that the St. James Farm Forest Preserve in Warrenville was offering covered wagon rides, I thought it was a good chance to check out a place I'd always wanted to visit anyway.

St. James Farm encompasses 607 acres, including more than 100 acres of woodlands, prairies and wetlands. Beginning in the early part of the 20th century, it was the retreat of the wealthy McCormick family.

Its borders are Butterfield Road to the south and Mack Road to the north. South Winfield Road runs through it on the west side.  We first attempted to enter from the north and west (lots of construction), and eventually we found the correct entrance from Butterfield Road.  At first we only saw a few cars but no people so we walked toward a caboose on the property. 

We then saw a wagon unloading and quickly inquired about the next ride. I paid $5 (children ages 5-12 are $2; kids under 5 are free) and we were then treated to a private tour -- we were the only ones on our wagon on a recent weekday afternoon. Although we didn’t see any coyotes or deer (the earlier tour did) we loved the colorful trees and imagining how it must have looked when the McCormick mansion was standing. 

The author, accompanied by her children, on a covered wagon tour of St. James Farm Forest Preserve in Warrenville. Photo provided.

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Easy Outing: Cantigny in Wheaton

Cantigny is hard to pin down. It definitely qualifies as an "Easy Outing," but it could be featured as one of our "Great Parks!" too. It has a military museum, formal gardens and a golf course. It also regularly hosts all sorts of special events and classes, many that appeal to families, such as concerts, an Easter egg hunt, outdoor movies, an Independence Day celebration and more. But however you categorize it, Cantigny is a gem in Chicago's western suburbs. Read on to learn why you should definitely visit Cantigny this summer.

Name: Cantigny, a 500-acre park that was once an "experimental farm" belonging to Col. Robert R. McCormick, who was the editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune from the 1920s into the 1950s. During World War I, McCormick took part in the liberation of the village of Cantigny in France, America's first victory during the war. The battle inspired the name of his farm west of Chicago.

The rose garden at Cantigny. Photo by Lori Tondini.

Location: 1S151 Winfield Road in Wheaton, just south of Route 38.

Hours: Vary depending on the season, but in the summer, the park is open from 7 a.m. to sunset. The museums are closed Mondays and open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the summer. 

Admission: There is adaily parking fee at Cantigny of $5 per car from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from May through October and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. the rest of the year. The "twilight" parking fee is $2 and is in effect from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and after 5 p.m. from May through October, and from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m. the rest of the year. Cantigny just created a membership option, as well.

Amenities: Cantigny offers 22 individual gardens; the Cantigny First Division Museum; the Robert R. McCormick Museum; a 27-hole golf course; several restaurants and a coffee shop/snack bar; a visitor's center with a gift shop and restrooms; picnic grounds; playground and a nature trail. Cantigny also offers "Family Discovery Backpacks" at no charge, for up to three hours of use during your visit. Backpacks are geared toward families with children in preschool through 5th grade.

Food: You can bring your own picnic. There are no public grills, but personal grills may be used in the picnic area. Alcohol is prohibited on the grounds. The restaurant Le Jardin is open for casual lunches and special brunches. (It has a children's menu with standards like a grilled cheese sandwich with chips or a fruit cup for $3.50.) Bertie's Coffee Shop offers coffee, smoothies, baked goods, ice cream and some limited lunch options.

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Indoor Play: Hickory Knolls Discovery Center in St. Charles

Are you ready for the gray, chilly days that lay ahead? We’ll try to help you through them with our Indoor Play Guide. Here’s a new addition to the list; it just opened last spring, and it's free!

The wigwam and canoe at the Hickory Knolls Discovery Center. Photo by Tara Burghart.Name: Hickory Knolls Discovery Center, a 10,500-square-foot building on the west side of St. Charles designed to showcase the natural treasures in the Fox Valley.

Location: 3795 Campton Hills Road in St. Charles in James O. Breen Community Park, the same park that is home to Otter Cove Aquatic Park. The easiest entrance to Hickory Knolls is on the south side of Campton Hills Road, just west of Peck Road. The center’s phone number is 630-513-4399.

Hours: Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursdays. Open noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays.

Amenities: Live animal displays, indoor turtle pond, a giant rabbit, a teepee, canoe, coloring station and a large room that can be rented for special events (and is good for letting energetic kids blow off steam!) The restrooms have a diaper-changing station. While there is no nursing area, it would be easy to find a semi-private place to breastfeed. The St. Charles Park District offers a number of programs at Hickory Knolls, too, but they do require advance registration. Check the current park district catalogue for events; here's a link to programs scheduled at Hickory Knolls during the winter of 2011-2012.

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Easy Outing: Buffalo in Batavia!

When my husband went on a vacation to Colorado about four years ago, I was so excited to get to see a herd of buffalo that live in a Denver city park. Little did I know there is a herd living just a few miles from my home!

Photo by Michael Kappel on Flickr. Taken at Fermilab in April 2011.The buffalo roam a large pasture at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, the physics laboratory in Batavia that is part of the U.S. Department of Energy. I just heard about them last month from Tracy Richter – one of our valued contributors here at GWYM. Yesterday turned out to be a perfect day for my daughter and me to check them out when I was eager to find something free and low-key we could do to get us outdoors in the sunshine.

But first .. what are buffalo (or more correctly, bison) doing in Batavia? According to Fermilab’s website, the lab’s first director bought a male bison and four females to Fermilab in 1969 to help “recognize and strengthen Fermilab’s connection” to its “prairie heritage.” A couple of years later, the Illinois Department of Conservation gave the lab 21 more bison – the descendants of those first animals are what you’ll see at Fermilab now.

Having passed Fermilab countless times and seen some security measures and signs from the road, I wasn’t sure how hard it would be to get on the campus. But it was actually very easy. Fermilab's grounds are open to the public every day from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (from mid-October to mid-April) and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. the rest of the year. Here’s a map detailing the areas that are open to the public, and you can click here to check the current status of the access to Fermilab – to make sure it hasn’t become more stringent since my visit.

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Easy Outing: The Kane County Forest Preserve's Nature Programs

How much would your 4- or 5-year-old child love to attend an hour-long nature program centered around themes such as “Colors of Spring” or “The Buzz about Bees” and featuring stories, hikes, songs, games and crafts? The cost is just $5.

Photo by kenschneiderusa on Flickr.Or how about a free guided hike through the woods aimed at mothers with young children in strollers? Fussy babies are welcome, interruptions are expected and the hike makes stops for feedings and diaper changes!

Both are among a number of free or low-cost programs for children or families offered by the Kane County Forest Preserve District at spots including St. Charles, Elburn, Hampshire and Elgin. These programs aren’t listed on the Go West Calendar because they require advance registraition. (The calendar is mostly reserved for events you can do spur of the moment.)

But it’s easy to regsister for the Kane County Forest Preserve programs. You can do so either by email atprograms@kaneforest.com or call 847-741-8350 weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. You don’t have to be a resident of Kane County to participate.

You can see all the programs by clicking on the “Environmental Education” tab on the left side of the forest preserve’s website. Then click on “Public Nature Programs” to see programs that appeal to either children andfamilies. Another easy way to keep track of the programs is to read the current “Tree Line Newsletter” also under the “Environmental Education” tab.

Here’s some info on the above programs as well as a few more. For complete details, check the forest preserve’s website.

  • Little Acorns is the nature program for 4- and 5-year-old kids. On May 19, it will be held at Brewster Creek Forest Preserve in St. Charles.
  • The next Nature by Stroller is May 20 in Johnson’s Mound Forest Preserve.
  • Story Time in the Woods is a program for infants through age 5. It is scheduled for May 6, May 13 and May 27 at Tekakwitha Wods Nature Center in St. Charles. You can only sign up for one storytime per month.
  • Two "Spring Wildflower Walks" remain, good for families: On May 1 at Tyler Creek FP in Elgin and an evening walk May 24 at Johnson's Mound FP in Elburn.
  • "Frog-o-Rama" will take place May 15 at Rutland FP in Hampshire.
  • The forest preserve has summer camps, too, both half-day and full-day camps  for children ranging from entering first grade through 5th grade. It also offers programs for homeschool families, as well as scouts and other community groups.

Easy Outing: Red Oak Nature Center in North Aurora

It was a dreary, frigid day: My daughter’s nap was too short, and the afternoon ahead of us loomed very long.

You can stay cozy indoors and watch birds refuel at the feeders outside a huge window in the Red Oak Nature Center. Photos by Tara Burghart.So we bundled up in our coats and boots and hopped in the car for a short drive to a place I’ve been meaning to visit for months: The Red Oak Nature Center.

Red Oak is part of the Fox Valley Park District, and it’s located on Route 25, either in North Aurora or Batavia, depending on who you ask. It’s open year-round, seven days a week, and admission is always free. After our very enjoyable visit, it’s definitely on my go-to list for those days when you just Have To Get Out Of The House!

Once you’re on Route 25, you’ll have to keep a close eye for the sign letting you know you’ve reached the Nature Center – it would be easy to zoom right past it. (It’s located one mile north of Route 56/Butterfield Road.)

The parking lot was nearly empty when we arrived. It’s then a few minutes’ walk over some railroad tracks and down a walkway to the Nature Center, where we were indeed the only visitors.

A very nice park district employee greeted us and gave us a brief orientation to the building, making sure we knew there was a rabbit in the “Discovery Room” and lots of other animals in the “Wildlife Room.” I decided we’d skip the nine-minute orientation video, since my main goal for visiting was to let my daughter just walk/run off some energy!

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