Dan Ryan Woods
Girls perform a dance routine atop the Nature Play Treehouse.

Under a cloudless sky on the last day of July, something special happened in Dan Ryan Woods. The Forest Preserves of Cook County, its partners and community members celebrated the opening of the new Nature Play and Treehouse on a site, located near the northeast corner of 87th Street and Western Avenue.

The Forest Preserve Foundation worked with the National Recreation Foundation to secure funds for a team of Youth Outdoor Ambassadors to develop a new multifaceted Nature Play programming. The Treehouse, which looks out over the landscape, is a key feature of the site. Within the Nature Play area, children of all ages can make “thunder” or make music, climb the netting or lounge in a leaning a hammock.

Nature Play for everyone

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Forest Preserve Foundation President Shelley Davis

“Our goals were to help the Forest Preserves be more accessible, more welcoming to all,” Foundation president Shelley Davis said in her remarks during the celebration. “The purpose of the Nature Play is not only to support the play and exploration of nature for little kids, 0 to 5, but more importantly, all of us kids, 6 years and up.”

The Forest Preserve Foundation is the philanthropic partner to the Preserves.

In all, more than $3.5 million in new amenities went into the South Side preserve, located near the Auburn-Gresham and Beverly neighborhoods. Other recent additions include the renovated and reopened Dan Ryan Pavilion and the popular new exercise stairs near the sledding hill. The 257-acre Dan Ryan Woods are a signature Gateway Site for the Forest Preserves of Cook County.

“Dan Ryan Woods is one of our most popular preserves,” Forest Preserves General Superintendent Arnold Randall said. “Every year we issue more than 500 permits for picnics and other special events here. These investments bring even more to the site for visitors.”

Fulfilling Gateway Plan

The Preserves in 2015 created a Gateway Master Plan, which “defines a class of special gateway sites equitably distributed throughout the Forest Preserves to encourage people to enter.” Features of gateway sites include well-marked trailheads and trails, outdoor concessions or technology that provides information on ways to engage with that site.

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Public officials address the guests at the ceremony

Public officials, including Cook County Board and Forest Preserves of Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle and state Sen. Bill Cunningham (18th), joined by representatives from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, spoke and toured the site during the “Natural Recreation Celebration Ceremony.”

“Our administration has worked with many partners on a Master Plan to re-imagine Dan Ryan Woods and write a new chapter,” Preckwinkle said. “These great new amenities here in Dan Ryan Woods reflect our commitment to ensuring that everyone across the county has the opportunity to enjoy and benefit from the nearly 70,000 acres of the Forest Preserves and all they offer.”

With temperatures in the high 70s, it was a perfect summer morning for the ceremony. While officials toured the site, families checked out the Nature Play area, community residents climbed the stairs, and a group of young girls did a dance routine atop the Treehouse. Truly, this preserve offers something for everyone.

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