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Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Are the preserves featured on this website the only ones in the Chicago region?

A: No, not at all. There are hundreds of nature preserves in the area. But the featured preserves represent the best examples of Chicago’s rich and unique biodiversity, while providing a sweet retreat from the toils of life.

This website features preserves covered in my my coffee table book and, as time progresses, more sites will be added. If you can’t get to any of the preserves presented here, I encourage you to visit any preserve near your home. Just get out there and form a relationship with nature.

Q: Why do you feature preserves from southeast Wisconsin and northwest Indiana on a website about Chicago nature?

A: The nature preserves presented here represent what I’ve determined from years of experience to be the finest examples of the natural history of the region known as Chicago Wilderness. Chicago Wilderness 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.

Q: Why makes your featured preserves special?

A: In a word, “magic.”

I’ve been photographing Chicago nature, as an outsider, since 1993. It’s my passion.

There are hundreds of nature preserves within the Chicago region, totaling about 1,600 native plant species, and I encourage you to visit them. Unfortunately, most have been overrun by more than two hundred weedy invaders from other regions and continents, leaving behind just a handful of local species behind to Chicago’s natural history. These invaders appear beautiful on the surface. But, if left unattended by land managers and volunteers, very few native plants would survive. Over my many years photographing for Chicago Wilderness magazine, I have fallen in love with a special smattering of sites that are not only exceptional in terms native biological diversity, but they are especially beautiful and provide an escape from urban life. They’ve stolen my heart, and my hope is that they’ll steal yours, as well.

I’ve learned a lot about what makes a preserve magical. For instance, a biologist might love a certain preserve based on its botanical richness or the rarity of habitat. These aspects are important to me, too. But, if it’s not a beautiful place, then what’s the point? I’m not interested in seeing a wall of row houses right next door. I specifically go out into nature to get away from all that. And so do most Chicagoans.

So, if you want to experience magic and to get a feel of what Chicagoland was like thousands of years ago, then visit the preserves on this website.

Q: Can I suggest a preserve for your website?

A: Yes, especially if you work in restoration or you’re a land manager. That’s because it’s important to understand what grows there. If a site gets selected, it must first be photographed at its best, which could take a year or more. For instance, if you contact me in the summer about a woodland that is best known for its springtime blooms, then it won’t be photographed until the following spring.

When suggesting a preserve, please provide a convincing description and, if possible, pictures. Here is a list of criteria:

  1. Rich native plant biodiversity.
  2. Minimal non-native and invasive species
  3. The site provides the feeling of serenity and an escape from civilization.
  4. Free! No admission fee.
  5. Easily accessible to the public (not private). Parking. Trails exist or preserve is easily hiked.

Q: Can I submit images to your website?

A:  The quick answer is, not at this time. The longer answer is that I have three principles that I strictly follow.

  1. This website makes it a point of equating Chicago’s natural beauty to the magnificence of the national parks. Therefore, the pictures need to be as good or better than any found in national-park calendars. A high standard of photography is required to prove my point and to also get people excited about visiting and protecting Chicago nature.
  2. I am a firm believer in paying photographers a fair price for image usage. After all, if it weren’t for photography, there wouldn’t be any national parks, let alone nature preserves across the United States. For this reason, it’s sacrilege not to pay photographers, especially nature non-profit organizations that always have the money to pay writers, designers, and printers for their fancy publications.
  3. I do not accept donated images. As with my second principle, photographers need to be paid. Donated images flood the market and prevent nature photographers, in particular, from making a living. I don’t donate my images to this website. One day, I hope to be paid for the usage.

"My Journey into the Wilds of Chicago"
Immersive Exhibit by Mike MacDonald

Immesive exhibition of Mike MacDonald's photography and storytelling entitled "My Journey into the Wilds of Chicago" at Peggy Notebaert Nature Muesum in Chicago, Illinois.

Experience Mike MacDonald's immersive photography and storytelling at Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

Click for Tickets or Pay at the Door


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