Renovated Sand Ridge Nature Center unveiled

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Sand Ridge Nature Center
State and local officials cut the ribbon at the renovated Sand Ridge Nature Center. From left to right: Forest Preserves General Superintendent Arnold Randall, Cook County Commissioner Stanley Moore, Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County Commissioner Donna Miller, Illinois Department of Natural Resources Director Colleen Callahan, and Sand Ridge Nature Center Director Stephen DeFalco. (Photo: Quinton R. Arthur)
By Quinton R. Arthur

SOUTH HOLLAND, Ill. (August 3, 2021) – The Forest Preserves of Cook County celebrated the unveiling of the improved Sand Ridge Nature Center with a ribbon cutting ceremony and public tour Saturday, July 31.

The $1.6 million project was financed mainly by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development (OSLAD) program. The Sand Ridge campus is one of the Forest Preserves’ top priorities for ecological restoration.

State and local officials in attendance at the event included Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Cook County Commissioners Donna Miller and Stanley Moore. Also in attendance were Forest Preserves General Superintendent Arnold Randall and Illinois Department of Natural Resources Director Colleen Callahan.

Sand Ridge Nature Center
Sand Ridge Nature Center Director Stephen DeFalco (center) gives a tour of the new nature center as General Superintendent Randall (left) and Cook County President Preckwinkle look on. (Photo: Quinton R. Arthur)

“The Calumet region is a special part of Cook County, and Sand Ridge Campus emphasizes the area’s unique and natural and cultural heritage,” said President Preckwinkle in her welcome speech.

Director Callahan later followed, speaking to the community-building that this project brought forth.

“Three C’s that are very foundational to me are communicate, collaborate, and connect,” said Director Callahan, “and that’s exactly why this project and this campus as it is now presented today have been successful in this effort.”

Renovated nature center

Following the introductory speeches and ribbon cutting, a tour of the renovated facility was led by Sand Ridge Nature Center Director Stephen DeFalco. Guest were greeted at the newly-installed front desk and a choose-your-adventure wheel that visitors can spin to have a new experience each visit.

Take a video tour of the new facility and surrounding area below. Video by Quinton R. Arthur:

The redesigned facility has many new interactive exhibits, such as the Flight Room, done in partnership with the University of Illinois Extension’s Master Naturalist and Master Gardener program. The room has a bird garden with identification signs listing all the birds you can see throughout the year. Guests can use provided binoculars and shareable equipment in the room and on the trails.

On the opposite end of the hall, guests were exposed to the cultural and ecological history of the region, including a timeline of Michigan City Road, puzzles about different species of snakes, and drawers with more interpretive features.

A timeline of nearby Michigan City Road. (Photo: Quinton R. Arthur)

Visitors were drawn to the various ecosystem displays, featuring the aquatic Blanding’s Turtle and the terrestrial Hognose Snake, two endangered species that are specific to the region.

Sand Ridge Nature Center
Guests stopped to watch the turtles inside of the newly-renovated Sand Ridge Nature Center. (Photo: Quinton R. Arthur)

The last exhibit within the facility is a magnetic mural featuring all animals, plants, and fungi found within the region.

Outdoor features

The outdoor amenities offer even more to the public.

“A big part of what we have done here is to create a more cohesive campus that encourages people to explore the full range of outdoor activities and to get into nature,” stated Superintendent Randall.

The back of the Sand Ridge Nature Center has trailway finding posts that helps visitors navigate the area and a nature play area. For those who enjoy fishing, new outcroppings are available at Green Lake. For those who would like to walk the trail, there is now a 1.3 mile trail that connects the nature center, Green Lake, and the aquatic center into the larger regional Burnham Greenway Trail System.

The Sand Ridge Nature Center welcomes all guests to experience all that it has to offer. It is open to the public 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and closed on Fridays. To find out more, visit fpdcc.com. The Sand Ridge Nature Center is located at 15891 Paxton Avenue, South Holland, IL.

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