Fort Sheridan and Openlands Lakeshore Preserve

This weekend was a welcome taste of warmer weather to come, and anyone who was wise took advantage of it! We did as well, by doing some hiking and exploring along Chicago’s north shore. I’ve been to Fort Sheridan and the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve before, but it was significantly more pleasant this time around, with nearly 60 degree weather.

I decided to do a bit of research about the history of Fort Sheridan as well. The site was originally established as a French trading post, conveniently connecting Chicago to Wisconsin. But nothing much happened here until Fort Sheridan was established in the 1880s, as a military post to “keep the peace” for the rapidly growing city of Chicago (read “suppressing labor unrest”). It was named after a certain General Sheridan, hence the name.

And so the site was developed into a well-equipped military base, designed by the architectural firm Holabird & Roche (they designed some of Chicago’s first “skyscrapers”, like the Marquette building). The focal point of the complex still seems to be the 200+ foot water tower, seen in the picture here. I look at it and think, is it really just a water tower? I guess so…


The Holabird & Roche designed water tower at Fort Sheridan


I’m always one for a good placard!

The rest of the area were homes for officers and their families, barracks, mess hall and stables, all clustered around a large parade ground. And while Fort Sheridan played a major role in both world wars, and conflicts both before and after, the Fort was officially closed in 1993. There are still military goings-on around here, but the historic neighborhood now seems like a pretty desirable neighborhood for non-military residents. A condo or townhome goes for about half a million or more here.


The Romanesque architecture of nearly all of the Fort Sheridan homes.

The Openlands Lakeshore Preserve is just a small section of lakefront property adjacent to Fort Sheridan that has been under restoration the last few years. The ecosystem is supposedly rare and unique in Illinois, but still in need of ongoing restoration. But, with the trail running along a high bluff over the shoreline, the beauty of getting such an elevated glimpse of Lake Michigan is what really makes it for me. Now, I just have to make it back here during summer…


Openlands Lakeshore Preserve along Lake Michigan, Highland Park, IL

Five reasons to get outside!

Since about this time last year I have been involved (on and off) in a hiking group in the Chicagoland area. This isn’t my first time hiking either; if you look back at earlier posts of mine, I did a lot of hiking in England as well. So, I think I can fairly tell you that you should get outside and do the same! Here are my reasons, along with a brief review of some recent hikes.

Reason #1: Meet new people

Every time I go on a hike I meet new people. Some of them I may see again on another hike, and some of them I may never meet again. I’ve had the good fortune of meeting many friendly people and having quality conversations, whether we discover we have a common interest in history, or travel and photography etc.

What a great group of people on a winter hike!

What a great group of people on a winter hike!

Reason #2: Learn a new skill

Sometimes I get the opportunity to learn a new skill, or practice an old one. I got a nice refresher course this weekend on cross country skiing, which I’m sure I hadn’t done in 10 years. I have yet to go on one of the rock climbing trips, or mountain climbing trips :-s

Friendly faces on a cross country skiing outing.

Friendly faces on a cross country skiing outing.

Reason #3: Find out how interesting your neighborhood is

Hiking around forest preserves or parks with someone who knows it better than you can be an education. A Thanksgiving Day hike was my motivation to visit the local arboretum for the very first time – only a 20 minute drive from my house. And a hike in the near-west suburbs of Chicago revealed the city’s very own ‘Fountain of Youth’ – locals come with their empty jugs to fill up on the good stuff – see the link to the article below!

"The Fountain of Youth", in a neighborhood near you!

A water pump in a forest preserve is locally viewed as a ‘Fountain of Youth’! My photo.

Reason #4: Get in shape

This is an obvious one. Getting outside and hiking, or whatever it is you want to do, is good for your health. My only mistake has been starting with something that was too challenging for me, but I enjoyed the exercise even then. Last year I did a 22 mile hike around Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, and although I was sore for several days after, I felt so proud of what I’d accomplished!

How about getting in shape in beautiful surroundings?

How about getting in shape in beautiful surroundings? My photo.

Reason #5: Outside is better than the gym

Honestly, there are things you can see and do outside that you will never experience if you just go to the gym. Wildlife is a big one for me, like deer, beavers, or eagles (on occasion). And as you’ll notice from the pictures, winter weather doesn’t have to keep you from going outside. In fact, its a good reason to go out and get your vitamin D…

Something else you may see if you venture outside.

Something else you may see if you venture outside.

Photos are courtesy of the meetup group contributors, unless otherwise noted.