September 27, 2020
Whenever I think I’m going to run out of forest preserves to explore, there always seem to be more. Sunday I spotted Whistler Woods on the Little Calumet River, but then my eye was drawn northward to Dan Ryan Woods and a single word on the map: Aqueduct. That sounded promising. I was torn, but Dan Ryan Woods is slightly closer, and who wouldn’t want to check out an aqueduct?
At 257 acres, Dan Ryan Woods is big and is one of the few forest preserves within Chicago. We stopped at the first entrance we came to on 87th, where I used the necessary and J. took videos of noisy remote-controlled racing cars.
At the next entrance, we found a visitor center (closed), a sledding hill, fitness steps based on the same principle as those at Swallow Cliff Woods, a fancy playground (relatively new, I found out later), and a monument “dedicated by Gold Star mothers in loving memory of our sons who gave their lives in the world war (1914–1918),” which had been been relocated to Dan Ryan Woods.
Dan Ryan Woods is also known for its view overlooking downtown Chicago. According to graphics by the visitor center, Dan Ryan Woods is the tip of an island once in ancient Lake Chicago, 14,000 years ago. This area is one part of Chicago that isn’t relatively flat.
We took the pedestrian underpass beneath 87th Street, where a sidewalk leads to a trail into the woods and to the limestone aqueducts that wind through them. According to the Forest Preserves of Cook County:
The limestone aqueducts at Dan Ryan Woods were constructed by the CCC to prevent water from washing away soil on the steep ridges. . . The CCC built limestone stairways in the 1930s for visitors to more easily access the ridges surrounding the aqueducts — and to admire the land below.
Time, and substantial restoration work, have turned a trip up these stairs into an awe inspiring climb through a mature woodland. Oak and hickory trees arch high overhead, while redbud and ironwood trees stand tall under the canopy. Native grasses and wildflowers carpet the woodland floor.
It’s an amazing walk, even in September, and I recommend climbing the stairs and looking down. The aqueducts were bone dry, and a few joggers ran in them. I was content to walk along them and enjoy the feeling of being deep in the woods, lost in time and space — and Chicago.
More here about Dan Ryan Woods.
1 Later I found a 1991 article that said Whistler Woods had become a dumping ground for bodies. I hope that’s well in the past.