Natural areas are open from dawn to dusk daily.
South Shore Nature Sanctuary contains over six acres of dune, beach, wetland, pond, woodland, prairie, savanna, and shrubland habitats within South Shore Cultural Center Park, a microcosm of habitats native to the Chicagoland region.
The nature sanctuary’s location along Lake Michigan make it an an important stopover during spring and fall migration, providing food, shelter and a place to rest. Many native, bird-friendly species of shrubs and trees have been planted including oaks, hawthorn, American plum, serviceberry, hazelnut, viburnum, and native roses. These woody plants provide fruit or display flowers that attract the insects that many species of birds rely on for their diet. The prairie meadow includes plants that provide nectar for butterflies and food for growing caterpillars such as butterfly milkweed, blazing star, and purple coneflower. Scattered oaks have been established as key canopy and habitat for birds and insects. The wetland edge contains a variety of native shrubs and plants such as indigo bush, button bush, cardinal flower, bull rushes, and wild blue iris. Sandy spaces along Lake Michigan within the nature sanctuary footprint contain regionally rare dune and beach habitat with native plants such as sea rocket, marram grass, and sand reed.
Two circular limestone benches known as council rings provide special places for small gatherings. The council ring was the hallmark of Jens Jensen, a renowned landscape architect who lived from 1860-1951. Jens had great reverence for the native Midwestern scenery, which inspired him to create the “Prairie style” of landscape architecture and to champion a movement to save threatened natural areas. Jensen believed these council rings were very democratic places, and so they were among his favorite elements. The locations of the council rings at the peninsula’s point provide scenic views of the Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline.
Much work has been done to bring this natural area to its current state. Community volunteers assist the park district by collecting and planting native seed and plugs, picking up trash, monitoring flora and fauna, and removing invasive species. Learn more about volunteer opportunities in Chicago Park District Natural Areas by visiting our Community Stewardship Program page.
While natural habitat such as beach and sand dunes existed at South Shore well before the park's 1999 Framework Plan, it was during the plan's community input and planning process that the recommendation emerged to “upgrade and expand the natural habitat on a portion of the South Peninsula and provide an interpretive nature walk.” In 2001 the Chicago Park District began construction on the new sanctuary, including the installation of native plants and seeds, a small wetland, and a looped trail system that leads leads visitors throughout the different planted habitats. The sanctuary opened in 2002.
In 2002, the Chicago Park District was the recipient of the U.S. EPA and Chicago Wilderness Conservation and Native Landscaping Award for outstanding efforts in using native plants in the landscape at South Shore Nature Sanctuary.