About ChicagoNatureNOW!Chicago Nature Information
Experience National Park Quality Beauty in Chicago
Hi! I’m Mike MacDonald. I’m a nature Matchmaker. I’m here to help you fall in love with Chicago nature by setting you up on dates with that gorgeous neighbor next door. And, in doing so, I hope to improve your health and well-being and also that of our local preserves.
There are more than 450 square miles of protected natural area within fifty miles from downtown Chicago. That’s bigger than thirty-four of the fifty-nine national parks, including Arches, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Mount Rainier, and Acadia. Chicagoland is also home to over 1,700 native plant species. That’s far more plant biodiversity than any national park—the closest being Grand Canyon National Park at 1,544. With so much biodiversity, every day from mid-April through mid-September, there’s a national-park quality blooming event happening somewhere near home, work, or school!
I created my book and, now, this website as my contributions to you and to the world. They are works of love, not just in their creation but in their goal: to connect people with nature and to spark countless love affairs. Yet, these just doorways into the natural world. I invite you to cross the threshold, go outside, and explore. Be awed by nature’s beauty. Ponder its mysteries and delight in its wonder. And, if you do, you will surely fall into everlasting love.
Even though I, and many restoration volunteers, have fallen in love Chicago nature, it isn’t enough. Many more people need to love it so that it can be restored to health. And because you can’t love and support something that you don’t know about, I created my coffee-table book and launched this website to introduce Chicagoans to the wonders of nature that exist right down the road.
This website is powered by two sources. The first is a database that I began in 2003 to keep track of spectacular wildflower blooms for use in my photography. Now, it is used as the information engine that drives ChicagoNatureNOW!. However, nature is unpredictable, and the database cannot tell us exactly each bloom will peak. This is why the second power source is our wonderful volunteer Nature Scouts, who venture throughout the wilds of Chicago every week to check what the database is suggesting and to bring you current information that you can rely on.
Each week of the growing season, I post weekly ChicagoNatureNOW! Alerts so you can see these national park quality blooming events for yourself. Visit these special places, cherish them, and care for them. Then spread this Chicago nature information, and encourage others to experience the magic by taking a snapshot to post on social media using the hashtag #ChicagoNatureNOW followed by a hashtag #NameOfPreserve. The original plan was to use this kind of crowd-sourcing to gather the necessary weekly blooming information for the alerts. Unfortunately, to crowd-source, you first need a crowd. And our preserves are not well-frequented. Therefore, we need Nature Scouts to help. If you’d like to learn about nature from our passionate and educated team, consider becoming a Nature Scout. You’ll gain so much more knowledge than this website alone.
Why These Preserves?
Just like our national parks that showcase the natural wonders of the United States, I’ve chosen my own set of showcase preserves to best represent the natural history of the region known as Chicago Wilderness. It is an area formed by glaciers that receded about 13,000 years ago and is defined by its unique geology and habitats that extend around the lake from southeast Wisconsin into northwest Indiana.
There are hundreds of nature preserves within the Chicago region, and I encourage you to visit them. However, many no longer feature a wide array of native plant species because they are under attack by weedy invaders from other regions and continents. Over my many years photographing for Chicago Wilderness magazine, I have discovered and fallen in love with a special handful of sites. Not only do they offer exceptional native biological diversity, but they are especially beautiful and provide an escape from urban life. They have stolen my heart, and my hope is that they’ll steal yours, as well.
As the battle to remove the invaders continues, and ecological restoration breathes new life and beauty into an increasing number of degraded sites, I will continue to explore and to add more high-quality nature preserves to this website.