Peterson Park Grounds
The northern site of Peterson Park Grounds has it all: On the one hand, there's the North Park Village Nature Center, a 46-acre nature preserve that features trails, woodlands, wetlands, and prairie land. On the other hand, you have Peterson Park, one of Chicago's most impressive city parks. As you may have guessed, no one actually lives on the Peterson Park Grounds, but the vast expanse of dense forest and recreation options attracts plenty of people to this wilderness site within the city.
Peterson Park Grounds Facts
Location: about 10 miles north of the Loop
Boundaries: Peterson Avenue to the north, Central Park Avenue to the east, Bryn Mawr Avenue to the south and Pulaski Road to the west
Bordering Neighborhoods: Peterson Park, Sauganash, Hollywood Park, North Park, Bohemian National Cemetery
Then and Now
Although no one actually lives in this Chicago 'neighborhood'—except, perhaps, for some little furry critters—it’s designated as its own distinct zone. The park it houses was named after a former resident of Chicago named Pehr S. Peterson. A Swedish immigrant, Peterson was a horticulturalist who made a fortune from his 500-acre nursery on the far north side of the city. Much of the nursery was devoted to tree farming for landscaping the recreational stretches of the city. In fact, it’s said that by the time Peterson died in 1903 a vast majority of the trees in the Chicago park system and all of the trees at the Columbian Exposition had been grown at his nursery. Peterson sold 160 acres of his nursery land to the city for a tuberculosis sanitarium in 1911. When the sanitarium closed in the 1970s, the city announced plans to sell the land for the proposed Green Acres Shopping Center. As a result of the ensuing public outcry, however, the grounds were preserved for public use and the shopping mall plans were scrapped.
Park is the Place
The North Park Village Nature Preserve (5801 N. Pulaski Rd., 312-744-5472) is the most unlikely of places in Chicago. Hidden between the Bohemian National Cemetery and Peterson Park, it is a vast urban nature preserve with miles of walking trails that are open to the public. In fact, it is the only nature center within the city limits. The onsite facilities include a visitor center with a discovery room and an educational facility open year-round. In the summer, tall prairie grasses fill the open areas, interspersed with multi-colored wildflowers and lively little butterflies. The main footpath is a 1.5-mile loop of gravel and woodchips that starts and ends at the nature center and weaves through both the open prairie and the wetlands—giving a good variety of scenery to keep it interesting. Most of the nature programs offered here are free of charge and there are also lots of activities for the little ones, including environmental education courses, outreach programs, and an eco-explorer summer camp.
It’s no doubt, the pace of life at the nature preserve is pretty slow, as jogging, biking and fishing are all prohibited to encourage visitors to slow down the pace and enjoy the natural beauty of the world, without the added stimulation of modern manmade gear or equipment. On account of its philosophy, the nature preserve is a great spot for bird-watching, catching a breath of fresh air, and going for a walk on something other than concrete for a change.
The nearby Peterson Park (5801 N. Pulaski Rd., 312-742-7584) is one of the few parks in Chicago that is nearly as lively in the winter as it is in the warmer months. That’s largely due to the fact that the park boasts one of the best fieldhouses and gymnastics facilities in the Chicago Park District’s vast network. Inside the fieldhouse, gymnastics classes are offered year-round in the indoor facility, along with tap, modern dance, and dancercise courses. The fieldhouse and gymnastics building are housed in the old sanitarium buildings that were built in 1915. Creepy as it may sound, they’re actually great facilities.
Peterson Park also offers a senior social club and conditioning for elder Chicago residents who want to stay in shape. And as soon as that first blanket of snow falls, the flat terrain and more than 24 acres of naturally wooded lands make for excellent cross-county skiing—finally, after all those hours of training on the NordicTrack you can test your skills on the real thing! Once the weather clears up again and the mercury starts to rise, folks flock to the park grounds to use its other outdoor amenities, such as the two soccer fields, four tennis courts, and two full playgrounds for the kiddies.
Mark Your Calendar
There are several annual festivals held in Peterson Park Grounds that draw Chicagoans from all over the city, including the Harvest Festival (North Park Village Nature Center 5801 N Pulaski Rd, 3120744-5472) in mid October. Folks can shop for fresh veggies and fruit at the farmers’ market or try their hand stuffing straw in the scarecrow making contest.
The easiest way of getting to and from Peterson Park Grounds is to drive. In this far north neighborhood of Chicago, there is never too much traffic, and parking is reasonably easy. There are no onsite parking lots for visitor use at the Grounds, but street spots are usually available, although it can be difficult to find a space on the weekends. In case you don’t have a car, or if you just prefer to take public transportation—you know, conserving gas and saving the environment and all—the other option for getting to and from the park grounds is to take the bus. The most accessible line to the park is the CTA #53 Pulaski Road bus, which runs every 12 minutes all night long during the week.
Peterson Park 5801 N. Pulaski Rd. - (312) 742-7584
Hours: 6 am to 11 pm, open everyday
North Park Village Nature Center 5801 N Pulaski Rd - (312) 744-5472
Hours: 10 am to 4 pm, open everyday
Both Peterson Park and the North Park Village Nature Center are open seven days a week, 362 days per year (they’re closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day).
Chicago Transit Authority - (888) 968-7282