Conveniently accessible throughout the Chicago area via Interstates 80, 90, 94, 294, 355, 55 and 57, the Chicago Southland is an ideal location for student groups.
Environmental Tourism Opportunities
Five environmental learning centers in the region offer a variety of programming for students of all ages. The Chicago Southland sits in the heart of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, which offers 68,000 acres of protected forest preserve and 300 miles of marked trails for hiking, biking, horseback riding and cross country skiing.
Lake Katherine Nature Center and Botanic Gardens in Palos Heights, Ill., is an 85-acre park that includes prairie, woodlands, wetlands and a 10-acre lake. Educational programs led by a naturalist, combined with a canoe or kayaking session and a lunch in the lush beauty of the gardens around Lake Katherine, provide a great stop for groups. Volunteer-while-learning opportunities are available as well; call the Chicago Southland CVB for more details.
Sagawau Canyon at the Sagawau Environmental Learning Center is the only natural exposure of bedrock in Cook County. A peaceful stream carves ever deeper into its 400-million-year-old rock. Join naturalists for a hike down to Cook County’s only natural canyon to learn how it was formed and what lives there.
Through the Chicago Southland’s partners at the Southeast Environmental Task Force, take the three-hour “Toxics to Treasures” tour that showcases the natural beauty of wetlands and prairies nestled between former industrial sites on the southeast side of the Chicago area. On the tour you’ll see an abundance of flora and fauna, beautiful bridges along the oft-ignored Calumet River, Chicago’s second and third largest lakes, and a former trash dump turned into an international golf course. The two hours of sightseeing is followed by lunch at an establishment offering local color and flavor. Tours run from spring to fall. For a fee, schools and organizations can request a private tour.
On Saturday, July 12, 2014, the Task Force is leading a group down more than 300 feet below lake level into the Deep Tunnel Project. With the cooperation of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD), they are taking a bus tour of both the tunnel and the ending reservoir in Thornton Quarry, also known as the “Grand Canyon of Chicago.” Starting at the Calumet Water Reclamation Plant, staff of MWRD takes the group to the heart of the pumping station. From there the tour goes to the Thornton Quarry, a quarry that has been in business since the early 1900s. The quarry contains Silurian reefs that formed when the Michigan Basin was covered in sea water more than 400 million years ago. The southern quarry will be turned into the deep tunnel reservoir once the tunnel finishes connecting, the sides are reconfigured and the connecting tunnels are blocked in 2015.
Public Art is Everywhere in the Chicago Southland
The Chicago Southland is home to incredible public art. From miles of murals celebrating the Lincoln Highway to 28 monumental sculptures, there is something for everyone.
In addition to a unique and quaint downtown area, Homewood, Ill., now boasts the largest collection of Richard Haas murals anywhere in the world. Haas is a world-renowned painter specializing in large, hyper-realistic mural art that creates the illusion of three dimensions. This style is called trompe-l’œil, meaning “deceive the eye” in French. The 14 murals are scattered throughout downtown Homewood and along the Dixie Highway.
Nine enormous murals dot the landscape along the 25 miles of the Lincoln Highway in the Chicago Southland. Created by the Illinois Lincoln Highway Coalition, the murals are part of one of the largest public art installations in the country. A total of 35 murals are featured along the 179 miles of the Illinois Lincoln Highway. The murals tell the stories of the famous roadway
Step into the wild prairie swales on the campus of Governors State University in University Park, Ill., and experience monumental sculptures in the Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park. Dotting the landscape are 28 sculptures that range from smaller limestone sculptures to a 30-foot-plus-tall fiberglass sculpture of Paul Bunyan and the Bodak Arc, a piece of land art that is best seen from the air. The park is open dawn to dusk year-round and free parking is available for visitors on campus.
Public art is everywhere in the Flossmoor, Ill. Along charming residential streets, sculptures are spread throughout the village including the town square and Flossmoor Garden & Sculpture Park. Eight permanent pieces and a rotating collection of exhibits in this evolving sculpture collection makes you want to keep coming back.
Just one block west of the downtown Palos Heights business district, the Art Garden is a great escape from the hustle and bustle of shopping along Harlem Avenue. The garden features several sculptures from local and national artists and two murals. Fourteen new sculptures from a private collection will be added to the Art Garden, around Lake Katherine Nature Center & Botanic Garden and at various locations in Palos Heights, Ill.
Bringing your group tour to Chicago’s Pullman Historic District immerses them in the unique history of the Pullman Palace Car Company and the Pullman neighborhood, once a model industrial city. Guided tours take groups to the historic Greenstone Church, made from greenish serpentine stone, and continue past neighborhood row houses, through the Market Square and to the grand Hotel Florence.
Whether you want to expose your students to environmental issues, public art or a special chapter in American history, the Chicago Southland offers a wealth of places packed with educational value.