117 Sheridan Road, Lake Forest, IL 60045
Fort Sheridan. For many years this was a U.S. Army base not open to the public. Now everyone can enjoy the site’s natural beauty and historic artifacts with everything so well preserved!
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“I really enjoyed that April the Naturalist and Nicole the Historian gave us the natural and historical aspects of the site because it’s very interesting and I learned how everything came to be. I loved being able to walk on the rocky beach to see the waves so close. That was very cool and unexpected!”
Lisa and I wanted to preview early signs of spring again courtesy of Lake County Forest Preserves. We saw another free guided hike listed in the LCFPD events calendar, Walk with a Naturalist: Fort Sheridan. We had been to Fort Sheridan once previously for HawkFest. During that event we caught a glimpse of the natural shoreline of Lake Michigan. The trail down to the beach was closed then due to restoration. We wanted to see the lake this time and catch a preview of spring.
One Saturday morning in early March, we walked up to a pair of guides waiting for us and others starting to gather into a large group. April introduced herself as the Naturalist to lead us on the Birding Trail Loop and point out subtle signs of spring activity. Nicole introduced herself as the Historian to give us some background of what appeared on the landscape or what used to exist right under our feet. Fort Sheridan was, is and always will be a place of significant natural and historical importance.
Before we set out on the Birding Trail Loop, Nicole pointed to the historic gate where numerous soldiers used to pass through every day at Fort Sheridan. This gave everyone an immediate sense of the purpose and scope of Fort Sheridan and its significance. We started to walk the loop when we were greeted by the spring warble of a confident Red-winged Blackbird, perched tall in the breeze. We stood so close as it didn’t seem to care. They didn’t call this the Birding Trail Loop for nothing.
Further down the loop we stopped to examine the open expanse of the landscape. Nicole explained that this swath used to be an airstrip in service of Fort Sheridan. April suggested that “This former airstrip is an ideal place for birdwatching.” Lisa and I had observed that for ourselves during HawkFest.
We resumed our walk past a long and winding deep ravine that looked very rugged. It turned out to be Janes Ravine, an excellent proving ground for training stationed soldiers before applying their skills at their next assignments. The variation of the area simulated many different types of scenarios.
Rounding past Janes Ravine we came upon some deer tracks and coyote scat. The flat path of the Birding Trail Loop wasn’t just popular with hikers. It made for superb byways for four-legged walkers as well.
“This former airstrip is an ideal place for birdwatching.”–April, Lake County Forest Preserves
Not far from Janes Ravine we came upon the Fort Sheridan cemetery. This was quite an old Army cemetery with some markers dating back to 1890. The arrangement of so many white markers with the simple centerpiece of the Cross and U.S. Flag stirred a quiet reality and deep respect for the history and sacrifice of these brave soldiers and all those who were stationed at Fort Sheridan.
We continued our walk and stopped at the top of a pedestrian bridge where we looked down to see a deeper and broader section of Janes Ravine. Nicole said that this was where soldiers practiced building bridges; consequently, some of the after effects of their practice left some marks on the land. Some of the after effects have been repaired and restored.
During some down time, high ranking officers used to fish a stocked pond called Patton’s Pond. It wasn’t named for General George S. Patton, but he was stationed at Fort Sheridan for his first posting. April and Nicole told the story of how George S. Patton used to wear his dress blues and ride horseback 12 miles each way on the weekends for dinner. George S. Patton wasn’t yet a General, but the lack of four stars on his shoulders then was just a minor detail.
As we continued our walk we spied the Tower Barracks looming over the horizon past Patton’s Pond. The Tower Barracks and the adjacent former Parade Grounds are National Historic Landmarks. The historic and spatial scope of Fort Sheridan is awesome.
“For many years this was a U.S. Army base not open to the public. Now everyone can enjoy the site’s natural beauty and historic artifacts with everything so well preserved!”
The natural shoreline of Lake Michigan was an important part of Fort Sheridan. It was utilized for various military exercises. Nicole explained that there still exists today a large amount of unexploded ordnance beyond the shoreline in the vicinity of Fort Sheridan. Because of this, a full cleanup and restoration could not be completed; therefore, access to that part of the shoreline is prohibited. However, away from the former area of military shoreline exercises is a beautiful sandy beach dotted with some rugged rocks and dramatic crashing waves. This is what Lisa and I wanted to see up close. Standing on the sand with the water rolling in so close, the scene was breathtaking. The environment felt deeply therapeutic and restorative. What used to be a proving ground for conflict training is now a place of nature and peace.
Fort Sheridan. For many years to come, this place will provide everyone with a free preserve of nature and history. Get back to nature again with a stunning introduction to Lake Michigan in all her natural beauty.
To discover upcoming educational events at Lake County Forest Preserves, visit Lake County Forest Preserves: Events – Education
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