When I first started college in the city, my classmates and I were deliberating over how to film a short script we’d been assigned. When I suggested that we shoot it in the woods, my classmates were confused—where were we going to find a wooded area in Chicago?
Stretching from 90th Street all the way up to 82nd Street, the Dan Ryan Woods is a 257-acre chunk of nature nestled in the far South Side. While people familiar with the woods may assume it sits within the Beverly neighborhood, as it was formerly named the Beverly Woods, this beautiful public space actually calls Ashburn its home. I spent my teenage years tightrope walking over fallen tree trunks and emerging from the brush covered in Enchanter’s Nightshade—a harmless but pesky hitchhiking plant that can latch onto your clothing as you explore the unpaved pathway. The park and hike brings a dense, fresh plot of greenery to the South Side, and is home to many plants, birds, and small creatures. The woods also have picnic groves—including accessible picnic groves for guests with varying needs—where visitors can sit and commune from spring to fall.
Although public parks and gardens provide a breath of fresh air within Chicago’s concrete jungle, there’s something irreplaceable about getting lost under a canopy of trees. Studies have shown that being around nature can improve our mood and frame of mind. Imagine perching on a tree stump and reading your favorite book, or riding your bike down the paved trail. There’s a peace that will follow you home after spending a day becoming one with the natural world around you. And, speaking of biking on the trail: the park features both a one-mile paved loop and the more than six-mile-long Major Taylor Trail, named after Marshall “Major” Taylor. Taylor was an award-winning Black cyclist and civil rights activist who spent his parting years settled in Chicago. For a long time he was the fastest bicycle rider in the world, and one of the first Black world champions in any sport. When we refer to the Dan Ryan Woods as historic, these are the types of stories that live amongst the wildlife.
Everyone should visit the Dan Ryan Woods at least once if they call the South Side their home. It’s so important for us to see how much beauty and adventure is available to us right in our backyards.
Dan Ryan Woods, W. 87th St. and S. Western Ave. Sunrise–sunset. fpdcc.com/places/locations/dan-ryan-woods/