Heller Nature Center – Highland Park

2821 Ridge Rd., Highland Park, IL 60035

“Every Plant has fitness and must be placed in its proper surroundings so as to bring out its full beauty.  Therein lies the art of landscaping.”

Jens Jensen (1860-1951  Danish-American landscape architect)

A colleague clued me in about the Heller Nature Center and provided me with the address.  That was key as the entry is easy to pass.  It is part of the Park District of Highland Park.  A quiet suburban enclave set on 97 acres, this is a location where a visitor can appreciate the simplicity of natural beauty.  Be sure to see both the indoor and outdoor attractions for a full experience.

The site has a connection to Jens Jensen who was a Highland Park resident.  A few facts about Jensen are in order at this point.  Born in Slesvig, Denmark to a wealthy farming family, he developed a love of nature in his early years.  He emigrated to America and was influential in creation of the Chicago park system.  Jensen’s style was to use open spaces, light and shadow and native plants to advantage in natural surroundings.

The Goodman Log Cabin is situated on this property.  In 1926 Jensen designed and supervised construction of the log cabin as a playhouse for the children of Irene K. and Benedict K. Goodman.  Later, the cabin was a gift to the Park District of Highland Park.  Moved to Heller in 1981, it currently houses wildlife displays.  Enter and note the fine stone fireplace opposite the front door.

Turning to the outside, three miles of pathways invite a walk.  Paths are color coded and outlined on maps posted along the routes.  There are four gravel trails.  Two are marked as wheelchair accessible but may not appeal to everyone.

aqua – 3/8 mile loop around the Nature Center (wheelchair)

red – 1 mile full loop to the north

gold – 1/2 mile loop to the south

blue – 5/8 mile to the pond & return (wheelchair)

The trails lead to wetlands, stands of hickory, oak and pine trees, oak savannas plus tall grass prairies.  Color coded markers nailed to posts guide the way.

Bee hives are in a clearing a short distance from the log cabin.  The bees pollinate plants in the park.  A group of volunteer beekeepers tend the apiary and harvest the honey.  Proceeds from the honey sales support the beekeeping activities and educational programs.  Honey from the 2011 season has sold out with the next harvest expected in August 2012.  Consult the calendar of events for upcoming events with the beekeepers.

Following the trail, you may pass the Council Ring.  Not too far beyond this point I observed a plaque on a tree cautioning against tree trimming.  This was a spot favored by nesting birds.

Turning to the nature center building, step inside to view the interpretive displays about the eco-systems found on the grounds.  A 450-gallon fish tank features native fish species and aquatic vegetation.  See a bee colony between glass panels or read information about local birds and hear their recorded calls.  The information is of interest to all age groups.

Amenities in the building are washrooms, water fountains with cold water as well as a beverage vending machine.  It offered a respite on a very warm day.

A Nature Art Show in the multipurpose room is running through the end of July 2012.  The photography of Kris Schroeder is on display and offered for sale.  Website: www.KristinasPhotos.com

The Heller Nature Center is a hidden treasure.

Notes:

Leashed pets are permitted.  Waste must be removed – mitts provided.

There is ample parking & a bike rack.

The grounds have two modest picnic areas.

A 3-level water fountain outside the south end of the nature center is available for people and pets.  The lowest level is suitable for dogs.

In winter, cross-country skis are available for rental.

More Information:

Grounds Open: dawn to dusk daily

Nature Center Hrs: M-F 8:30 AM-5:00 PM, Sat. 9:00 AM-3:00 PM

Park District of Highland Park – www.pdhp.org

Heller Nature Center – www.hellernaturecenter.org

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