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Safe and fun stuff to do around Chicago while practicing social distancing

8:23 PM CDT on March 17, 2020

Have you checked out the trolls at the Morton Arboretum yet?

Moving forward, SBC will only be recommending behavior during the pandemic that falls within the guidelines of the San Francisco areas's "shelter in place" order, which took effect today and will likely be emulated soon by other major cities like Chicago. We suggest getting familiar with & practicing these rules immediately in order to minimize your risk of contracting the coronavirus or transmitting it to others. 

The SF order allows for traveling to a county park or other open space to go for a walk, and recreational cycling is also permitted. "Spending time outside improves mood and wellbeing, and is particularly beneficial to children," the guidelines state. "You can go for walks, go to the park, and engage in other similar activities, but should maintain 'social distance' (i.e. be more than six feet away from persons who are not part of your household) when on walks [and bike rides] and in parks to avoid spread of the virus."

With that in mind, here are some Chicagoland destinations that you and your immediate family or housemates might consider visiting to get some healthy physical activity and lift your spirits during these challenging times. In keeping with the SF rules, in order to reduce your exposure to the virus and make transit safer for those who must use it, you shouldn't take the CTA, Metra, or Pace for non-essential recreational trips. If possible, walk or bike, or else drive. If you do drive, try to choose a destination relatively close to your home to reduce the chance of a crash (especially important at this time), as well as your carbon footprint.

Obviously, if you've been put in a tough spot financially by pandemic-related layoffs, recreation may be the last thing on your mind. If you've been more fortunate, here are some ideas for supporting local workers and businesses facing income loss.

-- John Greenfield, editor

COVID-19 social distancing has its perks: catching up on to-do lists, spending time with family and, for some, indulging in a little bit of forced rest and relaxation. With fewer people commuting, there aren’t as many cars on the roads. My husband is working from home so I don’t need to drive him to work and pick him up every day, and my son’s school and therapy clinic have shut down for at least the next two weeks, which opens up our schedule significantly.

However, it doesn’t mean we have to stay cooped up inside, especially now that the weather is warming up. I suggest taking this opportunity to stray off the beaten path and discover less-populated areas. I’ve gathered a list of Chicagoland parks, landmarks and public spaces that allow you to enjoy the outdoors while keeping a safe distance from other people. To make sure the destination is still open during the pandemic, check the linked website before you go.

Hunt for trolls at the Morton Arboretum

The Morton Arboretum in Lisle was established in 1922 by Joy Morton, the founder of the Morton Salt Co. and the son of J. Sterling Morton, who started Arbor Day. The arboretum comprises 1,700 acres, including 500 acres of plant collections and gardens and 900 acres of woodlands, prairies and lakes. While the buildings, Children’s Garden and Maze Garden are closed during the pandemic, the grounds are currently open. Get acquainted with the giant troll sculptures by Danish artist Thomas Dambo, which are on view through June. (If visiting with children, be sure to prevent them from touching the sculptures.) Made of reclaimed wood, the six sculptures range from 15 feet to 60 feet in height or length and resemble the trolls of European folklore. According to the arboretum’s website, they’re suspicious of humans -- perhaps with good reason.

Waterfall Glen.
Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve
Waterfall Glen.

Explore the trails of Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve

Located along the Des Plaines River in Darien, Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve encompasses 2,503 acres of prairies, savannas and woodlands, with 11 miles of trails. Named in 1973 for Seymour “Bud” Waterfall, an early president of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County’s Board of Commissioners, the land features the man-made Rocky Glen tiered waterfall, the Bluff Savanna and Poverty Prairie, so-called for its native poverty oat grass. The preserve is home to more than 300 species of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles and 740 plants, 75 percent of which grow naturally in DuPage County.

John Parker's "Gargoyle" at the Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park.
John Parker's "Gargoyle" at the Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park.
John Parker's "Gargoyle" at the Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park.

View public art at the Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park

The 2-mile-long Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park features more than 70 works by artists from all over the world. Walk among massive sculptures made of steel, aluminum, copper, concrete, glass, stone, wood, fired clay, found materials, and even Locheed L-1011 airplane wings. (Again, don't allow children to touch the sculptures.) Divided into four sections, including one dedicated to installations by local high school students, the park includes dozens of spectacular sculptures in a wide variety of styles, such as Rudiger Seidt’s austere “Feminin,” Jamie Barber’s alien-like “Reaper,” Lucy Slivinski’s woven-metal “Shadow,” Paul Howe’s whimsical “Know Your Mushrooms,” and Mary Cooke’s delicate-yet-dominating “Rite of Passage.” It's located along the North Shore Channel Trail, which you can pick up in Chicago at Ronan Park, near Lawrence and Sacramento avenues, so it's a great destination for a car-free bike ride.

Frank Lloyd Wright's home and studio.
Frank Lloyd Wright's home and studio.
Frank Lloyd Wright's home and studio.

Gawk from afar at the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright

While the interiors of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home and Studio in Oak Park are closed, you can still take a self-guided exterior tour of homes and landmarks designed by the famed architect and his contemporaries. Get a street view of the Wright-built Isabel Roberts House, J. Kibben Ingalls House, Oscar B. Balch House, and the Unity Temple, as well as H. Mahler’s Bell House, Purcell & Elmslie’s Henry Einfedt House, William Drummond’s John A. Klesert House and John Van Bergen’s Seth A. Rhodes House. 

The mausoleum of hotelier Potter Palmer and his wife Bertha Honoré Palmer.
The mausoleum of hotelier Potter Palmer and his wife Bertha Honoré Palmer.
The mausoleum of hotelier Potter Palmer and his wife Bertha Honoré Palmer.

Pay your respects to famous late Chicagoans at Graceland Cemetery

The 119-acre Graceland Cemetery and Arboretum in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood is the final resting place of several famous historical figures. Visit the graves of German-American architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Scottish-American detective and spy Allan Pinkerton, the first African-American world heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson, and Civil War Union general Francis Trowbridge Sherman. All buildings are closed, but the cemetery grounds are open to the public and offer an fascinating array of monuments and tombs. Fun fact: The final scene of Erik Larson's bestseller "The Devil in the White City" takes place at Graceland.

Find more ideas for enjoyable outdoor activities you can do during this time of social distancing here.

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