Photo by Mike Richardson

At a secluded trail head near 47th Street and just west of DuSable Lake Shore Drive., visitors are given a choice between two paths: a well-maintained paved trail or a more adventurous wood chipped trail winding beneath a dense canopy of trees.

Along the wood-chipped trail birds sing through the dappled light that sifts through the trees, and squirrels rustle in the brush foraging from berry trees. For the amateur botanist, special habitats and plants, such as native cottonwood and white ash trees, are identified by clear plaques. The canopy periodically gives way to lush prairie teeming with butterflies and birds. Intentionally designed to support native plant species, the prairies, meadows, and woodlands are a brief glimpse of the environment before the city was built. 

Burnham Nature Sanctuary is a part of the Burnham Wildlife Corridor, a 100-acre ribbon stretching along the lakeshore from Kenwood to McCormick Place.

Amidst this path, you may come upon a gathering space entitled “Sankofa for the Earth.” Throughout Burnham Wildlife Corridor, there are five gathering spaces which reflect the culture of nearby neighborhoods in Chicago. “Sankofa for the Earth” was a partnership with the South Side Community Art Center in nearby Bronzeville, which advocates for African American arts and artists. This space reminds us that history holds important information that allows us to successfully move forward in our lives. It is a sacred space to reflect on South Side history and connect with the land our community depends on.

For a more casual stroll, the paved option gives all the beauty at a slower pace. The trail winds beneath the edge of the canopy, and benches provide a place of rest to relax and breathe in the view. One section of the trail is designed as a boardwalk, elevated just above the rippling prairie. If you come here at the right time of the year, beautiful blooming wildflowers are abundant and make the perfect backdrop for pictures with loved ones. 

This wildlife corridor is named after Daniel Burnham, the Chicago city planner and architect responsible for designing the World’s Columbian Exhibition of 1893, which took place in Jackson Park, just south of the sanctuary. The Burnham Nature Sanctuary pays tribute to Burnham’s 1909 “Plan of Chicago,” which envisioned transit improvements, reclamation of all twenty-nine  miles of the Chicago lakefront with public parkland and an expansion to the city’s park and boulevards—though most of it was never realized. 

Burnham Nature Sanctuary, 1600 E. 47th St.

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