Not long ago, as geologists measure time, the water released from a melting glacier during the last great Ice Age created a much larger Lake Michigan, called Lake Chicago, which covered most Cook County. As the water found its way to the ocean, the level of the lake dropped, rose, and dropped again, forming beaches and low sand dunes on many temporary shorelines. Eventually, prairies and woodlands grew on the sandy soil of the long ridges left behind as the lake receded.
It’s here, in South Holland, on land that was once Lake Chicago, that you can find the Sand Ridge Nature Center, one of the treasures of the Forest Preserve District.
Originally opened in 1962, the Sand Ridge Nature Center consists of 235 acres with four self-guiding nature trails that wind through miles of varied ecosystems. The preserve surrounding the education center is a rich and diverse mosaic of savannas, woodlands, sandy prairies and wetlands. The Sand Ridge site offers not only high biodiversity but also a long history of cultural diversity.
Each month, the nature center offers a regular schedule of nature-focused programs, like the opportunity to explore trails, interpretive gardens and the Kid’s Corner—with numerous hands-on activities
The nature center also hosts important and popular signature events each year, including the annual Archaeology Day, a free public program that pays homage to the Calumet region’s Native American cultural history and its permanent connection to the land, while looking all the way back to the area’s post-glacial-melt beginnings. This year’s Archaeology Day takes place on Saturday, September 22 and is a celebration of the Center’s 50th Anniversary.
A special highlight of the 50th Anniversary year is the reopening of the reproduction pioneer log cabins at the center of Sand Ridge’s “Pioneer Living” program. Based on cabins at New Salem State Park in Petersburg, IL, where President Lincoln lived as a young man, the Nature Center’s four cabins have been restored so that what’s old is new again and vice versa. The cabins re-open officially Sunday, November 18, 2012 at the 40th Annual Settlers’ Day, but visitors to the 50th Anniversary festivities will be able to get a sneak peek.
Other special events include an Earth Day celebration each April, and the Christmas Past festivities held in December.
Sand Ridge Nature Center has deep, longstanding ties to the Calumet region community, and benefits from a rich volunteer network. The Sand Ridge Settlers, The Northwest Territorial Alliance (NWTA), Revolutionary War re-enactors, the 9th and 29th Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiments, Civil War re-enactors, and the Sand Ridge Archaeologists, to name a few groups, all contribute regularly to the wonderful program offerings at the nature center.
But, it’s not just the history lovers that make a big impact at the nature center; Sand Ridge Master Gardeners won the 2011 State teamwork award from the University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener program for their updates and additions to the interpretive gardens, including a modern pizza garden, a Native American three sisters garden and a pioneer vegetable and herb garden.
If that’s not enough notoriety, remember the 1990’s Paramount Pictures’ television series “The Untouchables”? Guess where some of those (1993) wooded and login cabin scenes were filmed? You guessed it … Sand Ridge Nature Center.