Even though the weather has been wavering between what has been balmy for February and normal chilliness, maple trees at Ryerson Woods in Riverwoods, IL have been ready to be tapped.
Which means the Lake County Forest Preserves’ maple season starts now with a festival Feb. 25 at Ryerson followed by maple syrup family hikes the first three weekends in March. In addition are a program for seniors and then a Spring Break program the last week in March.
Why tap now?
“You need days above freezing and nights below freezing. The sap was stored in the tree over the winter. Now you get a big rush as the pressure moves it up the tree,” said LCFPD Environmental Educator Jennifer Berlinghof, maple syrup programming coordinator.
Berlinghof explained that the sap travels up the xylem (plant’s vascular tissue that moves the sap of water and dissolved minerals up from the roots).
She noted that even though the current period for the maple syrup temperature change was “anything but typical,” the forest preserves’ staff were able to tap enough to have small tastings for families who sign up for Maple Syrup Hikes.
How much sap?
Berlinghof estimated that 40 gallons of sap are needed to produce one gallon of syrup. To bring home the point, she said that Ryerson has several containers stacked around the district’s evaporator where they boil out the sap’s water content to produce the syrup.
What to expect?
Families who register for the hour-long hikes go past sugar maple trees hear about the process and learn about drilling a hole to get sap. “The trees have already been tapped,” Berlinghof said, but she added that participants could see what it is like by drilling on the logs.
The hikes go to the where the sap is boiled down to syrup and, of course, participants get a taste of the final product.
Maple Syrup Festival
First is the free Maple Syrup Festival at Ryerson Woods, 21950 North Riverwoods Rd, Riverwoods, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023. Running from 9 -11 a.m., no registration is needed. Activities are inside the Ryerson Woods Welcome Center and outside on the trails. Daisy from WTTW Nature Cat will be there.
Maple Syrup Family Hikes
Hikes are Saturdays and Sundays, March 4 to March 19. They start every half-hour from noon to 2 p.m. from the Ryerson Woods Welcome Center and are led by Lake County Forest Preserves educators. Open to all ages, tickets are $6 per person. Children ages 3 and under are free. Spaces fill quickly. To register and obtain a ticket go to lcfpd maple syrup and scroll to the date you want or call (847) 968-3321. Scout and other groups can make special arrangements.
Spring Break Syruping
Learn about the collecting and making of maple syrup March 28, 11 a.m. to noon at Ryerson Woods. Register at Spring Break Maple Syruping. Limited attendance. Tickets $6, ages 3 and under free.
Senior Maple Syrup Hike
A hike for seniors age 62 and older is March 30 from 11 a.m. to Noon. Free to Lake County residents, tickets are $3 for nonresidents. Register at Senior Series.
Plan now because it seems everything from tree lightings and light festivals are starting early this year.
Remember when we used to think the holiday season began with Chicago’s Thanksgiving Parade early on “Turkey Day?” Then the Mag Mile pre-empted that with Mickey and Minnie Mouse turning on Michigan Avenue’s lights north of the Chicago River, accompanied by Santa. Meanwhile, Macy’s was following Marshal Field’s tradition of a Great Tree, lunch in the Walnut Room and wonderful holiday windows.
Chicago area’s two big zoos soon added to the holiday places-to-visit calendar with lights and animation. More recently gardens and nature walks such as the Morton Arboretum and Chicago Botanic Garden, got into the holiday spirit with color, lights and movement. Germany said, why not, so entered Chicago’s holiday season with the Christkindle Market.
Macy’s liked Marshal Field’s tradition so continue the Great Tree, lunch in the Walnut Room and wonderful, story-telling holiday windows.
Keeping track of what is around, when and where in the Chicago area can be challenging even when suburban and neighborhood residents mark their calendars with local tree lightings and events. So here is a short guide to the main holiday happenings.
Already started early November
Macy’s came out with their Great Tree Lighting, Santa visits, Walnut Room availability and windows theme the first week of November.
What to know: The Great Tree is 45 feet tall and is decorated on a toy-shop theme and is up through Jan. 8 2023. Santa Claus photo ops and wish whispers have to be reserved in advance. Santa is in his toy workshop on the Fifth Floor and reservations to visit him go through Dec. 24, 2022. The windows are already decorated and good for photos through Jan. 1, 2022. For reservations and more information visit Macy’s Holiday Celebrations: Visit Santa & More – 2022 (macys.com)
Macy’s is at 111 N State St., Chicago.
Second week in November
The switch went on and the last installation was done when Lightscape opened to Friends and Family at the Chicago Botanic Garden Nov. 9. Opened to the public (advance tickets needed) Nov. 11, Lightscape casts a fantasy vision over paths, trees, ponds and plantings with lights and music. It continues through Jan. 8, 2023. For tickets and more information visit Chicago Botanic/Lightscape.
Third week and weekend in November
This is a very busy time for holiday events ranging from the city’s tree lighting and a European holiday market to zoo lights and lit paths at an arboretum.
Go downtown for Chicago’s tree lighting Nov. 18 in Millenium Park. It’s scheduled for 6 p.m. with a pre-program at 5 p.m. The action is near Cloud Gate on the Grainger Stage. Visitors should enter at the South Promenade on Monroe Street east of Michigan Avenue. Don’t expect the lighting to happen until 6:30 but stay because fireworks follow the ceremony. For more information visit City of Chicago :: City of Chicago Christmas Tree
The German village-style Christkindl Market opens Nov. 18 a few blocks west of Millennium Park on Daley Plaza, 50 W. Washington St. A fun place to find gifts or take a yummy break from work or shopping, the Market is up through Dec. 24. For Chicago information visit Christkindlmarket | Holiday Market 2022 | Chicago
Lincoln Park Zoo spreads out just west of Lake Michigan between downtown Chicago and Wrigleyville so visitors sometimes try to couple its Zoolights with another holiday goodie. Presented by Com Ed with Invesco QQQ,, Zoolights is an impressive display at the city’s free zoo and costs only $5 a ticket for this holiday event. Zoo lights is Nov. 19, 2022 through Jan. 1, 2023. For hours, dates and more information visit ZooLights.
Also opening Jan 19 is the Morton Arboretum’s Illumination. Running through Jan. y7, 2023, Illumination transforms a mile long path among trees, meadow and gardens into a fairytale land of light, sound and color. The event combines old favorites such as the Enchanted Forest and Treeimagination, with new installations such as Late Nite Electric Illumination, tall, mirrored towers and a finale in the new Grand Garden. For more information visit Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum | The Morton Arboretum
Wait, as the commercials say: There’s more.
Last but not at all least this week is the Magnificent (Mag) Mile Lights Festival’s parade and day of activities starting at 11 a.m. at 401 N. Michigan Ave. Sponsored by Wintrust, the parade begins at 5:30 p.m. Mickey and Minnie Mouse (from the Walt Disney World Resort) lead the parade as they magically turn on one million lights along North Michigan Avenue.
What to expect: floats, helium balloons, marching bands, musical performances, Santa Claus ending with fireworks at the Chicago River. The event will also stream on Nov. 20 on ABC. For more information visit MagMileLights.
A giant helium balloon floats over State Street during a Chicago Thanksgiving Parade. (J Jacobs photo)
Fourth week and weekend in November
Chicago’s Thanksgiving Parade brings the sounds of cymbals, blares of trumpets and the sight of giant helium balloons and beautiful floats to State Street, that main street, Nov. 24.
The parade goes from Ida B Wells Drive at the south end to Randolph on the north. Figure that bands and entertainment from some of Chicago’s theaters could start as early as 8 a.m. and go to 11 a.m. For more information visit Chicago Thanksgiving Parade.
Holiday Magic at Brookfield Zoo starts Nov. 25 and continues on specific dates through Dec. 31 from 3 to 9 p.m. Presented by ComEd and Meijer, the zoo is a blaze with two miles of lights and colors moving to synchronized music.A new feature is a 600-foot “Tunnel of Lights” by Xfinity.
It’s only midway through fall and October which means it is not too late to take a family field trip out into the countryside to find the perfect pumpkin or explore a corn maze or take a hayride. The following three farms offer a variety of activities and a maze of possibilities for all ages.
Kroll’s Fall Harvest Farm at the far northwestern (the boonies) part of Waukegan must have a local following because it is out of sight, off the main road but reasonably busy.
After finding Kroll’s with our GPS, we refueled on yummy pumpkin donuts then explored the farm. Youngsters were having fun feeding the hens and llamas while young adults and couples were taking photos of each other behind cutouts of funny figures.
Their next stop was the bench where everyone waited for hayride before wandering through the maze and then going over to the pumpkin patch for the right size large one to carve or small pumpkins to easily carry away.
Kroll’s is a good, low-keyed farm experience. For hours, pricing and more info visit Kroll’s Fall Harvest Farm, 13236 W. Townline Rd. Waukegan, IL (847) 662-5733.
All Seasons, a good apple-picking place in Woodstock, turns to fall with fun activities for different ages.
It has a good-size corn maze of 10 acres with two paths – short and easy and long and harder. There is also a good pumpkin patch, pony rides and excellent apple cider donuts to eat on the way home.
All Seasons Orchard is at 14510 IL Route 176 Woodstock, IL, (815) 338-5637 For hours, pricing and more information visit All Seasons Orchard.
Richardson Farm in Spring Grove, has different experiences for different ages in the fall. It turns 28 acres of corn into a large sprawling maze of 9-10 miles of trails.
They are divided into four mazes to cater to different ages and difficulty. The maze is always interestingly themed. This year, 2022, it has a James Bond spy theme.
Among the other activities are wagon rides, zip lining and a picnic food and area.
Ricardson Farm is at 909 English Prairie Rd., Spring Grove, 815) 675-9729. Foe pricing, hours and more information visit Richardson Farm
Yes lighted displays at the Chicago Botanic Garden look spectacular when Lightscape stars and sparkling plants line walkways from Mid-November 2022 to early January 2023.
But the Garden also amazes right now as you wander among art installations, special plant groupings and the Greenhouse Galleries packed with the garden’s past and imagined future.
The art and other special exhibits are part of Flourish, The Garden at 50,” an anniversary celebration up now through Sept. 25, 2022.
Pick up a Flourish brochure at the membership/information desk near the Café, to see a map and information on 10 art installations.
Leaving the building you are walking across a bridge to the garden’s main area. Look right to see a huge nature sign on the opposite bank and then look near it further west in the water to see Casa Isle, an aluminum island house constructed by artist Edra Soto in what the Garden calls its “North Lake.”
A turn south past the lily ponds brings Juan Angel Chavéz’s wood and fabric Adsila sculpture into view.
Check the brochure for other art installations and then go over to the Regenstein Greenhouses for a look back at the garden’s past and thoughts of its future.
Be sure to stop at the plant installations on the path back to the bridge. They are plant groups from different countries.
“What began as an ambitious vision to have Chicago’s own public garden is now 28 gardens and four natural areas in Glencoe, 16 community garden and farm sites in Chicago and Lake County, and dozens of conservation and restoration research sites around the country,” said Jean Franczyk, the Garden’s president and chief executive officer.
“We are thankful to all who have shown up for nature, supported our conservation mission, and inspired us to keep imagining a future where people and planet thrive,” Franczyk said.
Chicago’s warm (finally) weather this Memorial Day weekend is perfect for a day laughing at monkeyshines at two zoos or a pirate-ship sail along the city’s shoreline. (Zoo note: both zoos require masks at their indoor animal houses).
Visiting the 235 acre Brookfield Zoo can be an all-day family event.
Starting May 26, visitors can see the cute tapir calf just born to his mom, Sorghum. He has been staying indoors at the Pachyderm House but mom and baby might wander to their outdoor space on the north side of the building because the weather will be warm. Now is a good time to see the calf with his white stripes. The marking fade by age six months. The South American tapir is related to the horse and rhinoceros.
Beginning May 28, the Butterflies area, closed the past two years, has reopened and includes moths. Located near the North Gate, entry is $4 adults, $3.50 seniors 65 and older and $3 children. Visitors will be able to see the transformation to butterflies in an off-exhibit space.
While wandering the zoo, be on the lookout for such ice-age creatures as a 15 ft tall wooly mammoth and the 18 ft long mastodon. They are among Dino Dan’s 30 life-sized animatonic animals staying at the zoo April 1 through Oct. 30, 2022.
Brookfield Zoo entrances are at North Parking Lot 8400 31st St, and South Parking Lot 3300 Golf Road, Brookfield, IL between the Stevenson (I-55) and Eisenhower (I-290) expressways. Current hours: 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
There are admission and parking costs. Tickets can be purchased ahead on line and are good for the entire day of entry. Adults $24.95, Seniors 65 and older $19.95, Children age 3-11 $17.95, age 2 and younger free. Parking is $15 and can be paid upon arrival.
*Visitors who have a general admission pass with a barcode, a member guest pass, a Chicago Public Library Museum Pass or a Museum Adventure Pass, can bring that to the zoo for entry, no reservation required.
At 49 acres, Lincoln Park Zoo is doable in half a day. Get a zoo map at the Visitor Center near the main entrance at 2400 N. Cannon Dr.
Time the visit to watch Seal Training at 11:30 a.m. or 2 p.m. near the main entrance . Then, be sure to visit the Pepper Family Wildlife Center.to see Pilipili, a recently born, African lion cub. His name means “pepper” in Swahili.
Lincoln Park Zoo is north of Chicago’s Magnificent (shopping) Mile.There are are several entrances with East gate near the paid parking lot being the main one. View the free parking map for all entrances. Current hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.. The zoo is free and opened every day. For more information visit Lincoln Park Zoo.
Sail on Tall Ship Windy
For a different sailing experience, take a 75 minute trip along Chicago’s shoreline on Windy, a Tall Ship docked at Navy Pier. Listen to pirate and maritime stories.
Earth Day is April 22, 2022. Here are some ideas on how to celebrate our Planet Earth, but also check with your local park district and forest preserve location.
On the national scene
Join NASA in its live chats with experts or with its virtual trivia games and at the @NASAEarth Twitter Space. See all the activities at Earth Day 2022 | NASA.
The Chicago Park District is doing a cleanup at more than 80 parks including the North Park Nature Center on April 23. To see which park is near you or where you would like to volunteer visit Chicago Park District/EarthDay..
Maple syrup, yum. We love it on pancakes or dripping on French toast or sweetening what is cooking. But no matter how the syrup is used, in spring we celebrate it because that is when the sap turned into syrup rises in maple trees.
Luckily, forest preserves’ educators can tap the trees to capture sap, take visitors on hikes to see the tapping, taste the sap, explain how it is turned into syrup and say how much sap is needed for even a little bit of syrup.
Where to go
In Lake County, IL, the Lake County Forest Preserves’ educators and volunteers lead Maple Syrup Hikes through the Ryerson Conservation Area in Riverwoods.
“Educators are prepping a full slate of programs taking place in March,” said Director of Education Nan Buckardt. “We are looking forward to offering both in-person and virtual programs this spring.”
In-person, public Maple Syrup Hikes are offered Saturdays and Sundays, March 5–20, at Ryerson Conservation Area. Lasting one hour and held outdoors, the hikes run every half-hour from noon to 2 pm and are open to all ages.
Environmental Educator Jen Berlinghof noted that the temperature dictates what visitors will see along the trails. “The timing for tapping maple trees comes down to temperatures above freezing during the day but still below freezing at night, Berlinghof said. She added that other factors include precipitation and the hours of sunlight in a day.
Berlinghof explained that changing temperature causes the sap to surge upward from the roots toward the branches, where it helps the leaves grow and the buds bloom. Then in summer, the leaves will produce more sap, which will settle back down in the roots come winter.
“Visitors are able to witness the wonder of turning sap from sugar maple trees into sweet maple syrup. All registered participants can have a taste,” Berlinghof said.
Tickets for Maple Syrup Hikes are required. Hikes fill up quickly, so register early. Cost is $6 per person. Children ages 3 and under are free. Purchase tickets online or call 847-968-3321. Special sessions designed for scouts or other large groups are also available. Call 847-968-3321 to register a group.
“If your family is ready to hit the trails, we are providing free self-guided Maple Syrup Hikes from March 21–31,” Berlinghof said. “Through informational signs, you’ll learn the science behind how trees make sap and how we turn that sap into real maple syrup as you walk along the designated trail at your own pace,” she added.
Visit education programs and register online at LCFPD.org/calendar or call 847-968-3321. The Ryerson Conservation Area is at 21950 North Riverwoods Rd., Riverwoods,IL
In Cook County, the Forest Preserves of Cook County hold virtual and in person sap programs at the River Trail Nature Center.
Called “Sap’s Rising,” The in-person programs are every Saturday and Sunday at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. beginning February 26 at the River Trail Nature center, 3120 Milwaukee Ave., Northbrook, IL. They will continue through March 19 at 1L30 p.m. For the March 19 event Vist Sap’s Rising,March 19.
River Trail Nature Center is at 3120 Milwaukee Ave Northbrook, IL. (Currently masks required indoors and unvaccinated visitors need them outdoors. But check when making a reservation.) Reservations are required. Call River Trail at 847-824-8360.
Expect the unexpected at the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Orchid show during this unpredictable year of 2022.
Stretching from the Regenstein Center into the greenhouses, orchids are rooting in an old upright piano, finding nooks in a secret garden, latching onto trees and winding around old strands of damp wood.
The show’s theme, “Untamed” is quite different from recent past years. Instead of remarking on how orchids are cultivated for celebrations or different uses, the show suggests they are resilient so can grow almost anywhere if left alone including where other plants might have trouble rooting.
Opened Feb. 12 and extending through March 27, 2022, the Orchid Show arrived in the Chicago area with more than 10,000 colorful orchids just as the weather seesaws from icy and snowy to warmer and rainy.
A special treat is Orchids After Hours on Thursdays from 5 to 8 p.m. when cocktails and hors d’oeuvres are also available.
The Chicago Botanic Garden is at 10000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe, just east of Edens Expressway.
Thanks to a $15 million gift from Roxelyn and the late Richard Pepper, Lincoln Park Zoo broke ground on a $41 million renovation of their lion house in December 2019.
After being closed for about 2 years, the new Lion House opened in October 2021 and is home to a pride of lions that includes one male and four females. Rumor has it that locally born offspring may result.
The state-of-the-art habitat has been renamed the Pepper Family Wildlife Center, home not just to lions but also Canada lynx, snow leopards and red pandas.
Fans of the old Lion House will be happy to see the renovation was achieved to preserve and enhance the architecturally significant features of the historic structure built in 1912.
The dramatic entrances on either side bring a flood of natural light into the interior and the beautiful vintage vaulted ceiling has never looked better.
Small cages and cells with their archaic painted backgrounds are gone, replaced inside and out with expansive viewing windows for close-ups of the big cats.
The habitat has nearly doubled, now providing the lions with a variety of choices from plenty of outside fresh air and thermal comfort zones to trees for climbing, and elevated rocks to give them high vantage points plus areas to seek privacy, shade, and shelter.
A unique indoor design element known as the Lion Loop, funded by the Women’s Board of Lincoln Park Zoo, enables guests to view the pride even more intimately from the center of the habitat.
The $41 million renovation of the building is the final phase of what has been dubbed The Pride of Chicago, a $135 million capital campaign that began in 2012.
It was my good fortune to tag along with the Chicago Uptown Lions Club on a special tour conducted by Bill Green, accessibility and inclusion manager for the zoo.
About seventy-five percent of the Uptown Lion members are visually impaired. Thanks to a grant by the Hart Prinze Fund, special accommodations have been made to allow those with special needs to enjoy the experience.
Green outfitted our small group with wireless earpieces that allowed us to easily hear his commentary as we toured the Lion habitat inside and out while he creatively and thoroughly explained what was being shown so that those unable to see would understand what the rest of us were experiencing visually.
On several occasions there were tactile displays that allowed both the sighted and unsighted members of our group to feel the size of a lion paw, the impression of their print, the feeling of their fur or the rough texture of their tongues.
Inside the building Green produced a special three dimensional map of the African savannah that the visually impaired could run their fingers over to get a sense of the various distances a lion might travel and kinds of terrain they may encounter in their journey.
All-in-all the Pepper Family Wildlife Center and its inhabitants are indeed destined to be the Pride of Chicago and should definitely be on your things to do calendar in the Windy City.
If you haven’t been to the zoo lately you might like to know that there are a number of restaurants and cafés on the grounds and several more within a short walk.
The Lincoln Park Zoo can be approached by car at Fullerton and Cannon Drive just west of Lake Shore Drive. Parking is available and might be considered pricey by some but admission to the zoo is free. If you’re a little more adventurous street parking is available along Clark Street on the west side of the park and there are bus routes that include the zoo entrance.
For more information about the zoo visit lpzoo.org. For more information about the Chicago Uptown Lions Club email [email protected].