Yesterday, Friday, September 20, 2019, the Chicago Zoological Society (C.Z.S.) announced the Hamill Family Nature Plaza had opened at the Brookfield Zoo in west suburban Brookfield, Illinois. The C.Z.S. cited the statistic over 85% of Americans live in urban areas and stated “many [of them are] without easy access to green spaces and exploring the outdoors.”
The Chicago Zoological Society, which is committed to providing nature-related and animal experiences in a welcoming environment, announced… a new learning, fun, and exploration space at Brookfield Zoo.
It is located at the southern end of the zoo on the former site of Baboon Island. The Hamill Family Foundation made the construction of the nature plaza possible through a donation the C.Z.S. described as “generous.” Further, the restaurant Scoops has undergone renovations and been re-branded as Peacock Café and Grill.
The C.Z.S. planted almost 670 trees and shrubs (including deciduous trees, evergreen trees, and flowering trees and shrubs) across the one-and-a-half-acre space. In summertime, visitors will notice dragonflies and pollinators (e.g., butterflies) flying amongst the over 10,000 perennial plants and 8,200 square feet of perennial seeds that cover the landscape.
Undulating pathways, lined by metal-framed benches, wind their way through the eastern side of Hamill Family Nature Plaza. The benches are fabricated of an environmentally-friendly polypropylene plastic made from 90% recycled materials and are themselves 100% recyclable. Visitors can make music with oversized chimes and floral-shaped percussion instruments. Children can climb into a fabricated nest and pretend to be birds.
There is a council ring inspired by those designed by the famous Danish-American landscape architect Jens Jensen (1860-1951), one of the founding fathers of both the Chicago Park District and the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. Guests can socialize here when the C.Z.S. is not using it as a platform for structured educational activities.
On the west side of Hamill Family Nature Plaza is a science exploration garden that features bench seating. There is another place where the C.Z.S. can offer educational programs. A water interpretation garden features wetland plants. Guests can learn here about water issues and the role green space in providing drainage.
According to the C.Z.S., “A sensory garden, located along the main promenade, features an accessible space with raised beds, wide walkways, and planting spaces that can accommodate guests of all abilities. There, guests can learn about summer flowers and vegetables that they can plant at home, along with the importance of pollinators. During the summer months, guests may encounter the zoo’s adult and teen volunteers, who will be able to provide additional information about nature-related and green-themed topics.”
Situated at the center of Hamill Family Nature Plaza is a spacious, open-sided three-season pavilion. During the warmer seasons, visitors can have informal chats with animal care staff and the Brookfield Zoo’s animal ambassadors. The pavilion may also be used for educational programs including Family Fun Saturdays and courses for teachers. After the zoo closes for the day, the pavilion can be rented out for private events, such as weddings, wedding receptions, and corporate events.
The Peacock Café and Grill has a sustainable dining-themed menu. The C.Z.S. stated, “Options include locally grown produce, ice cream made with sustainably sourced palm oil, grass-fed beef burgers, antibiotic-free chicken, and sustainably harvested Antarctic salmon. There is also the Impossible™ burger for those who prefer a plant-based option. Ice cream favorites include sundaes, shakes, malts, and floats. A variety of flavors and toppings are available. Guests can also try a freshly made funnel cake sprinkled with powdered sugar or topped with ice cream. Guests 21 years or older can quench their thirst with Brookfield Zoo’s branded beer – Hair of the Frog – that is served on tap.”
There is both indoor and outdoor seating. The indoor seating area has been remodeled since the days when the restaurant was called Scoops. The outdoor seating area has picnic tables, which seems especially appropriate for a zoo in a forest preserve. From here, one can view the Hamill Family Nature Plaza.
Figure 1 Credit: Cathy Bazzoni, Chicago Zoological Society Caption: Hamill Family Nature Plaza encompasses 1.5 acres of land on the southern end of Brookfield Zoo.
Figure 2 Credit: Cathy Bazzoni, Chicago Zoological Society Caption: The council ring at the Hamill Family Nature Plaza provides an area for Brookfield Zoo guests to socialize and relax. It can be a space used for structured educational activities, such as Zoo Camp. Along the pathway are oversized chimes (pictured right in the background) that allow visitors to use their imaginations and create beautiful sounds individually or as a family.
Figure 3 Credit: Cathy Bazzoni, Chicago Zoological Society Caption: Hamill Family Nature Plaza is on the site of Brookfield Zoo’s former Baboon Island where a variety of species resided. The habitat dated back to when the Brookfield Zoo opened in 1934. To commemorate the past, a small portion of the reddish-brown gunite was salvaged and stands in the northeast corner of the space with graphics depicting its history.
Figure 4 Credit: Cathy Bazzoni, Chicago Zoological Society Caption: Hamill Family Nature Plaza’s landscape features more than 10,000 perennial plants and 8,200 square feet of perennial seeds. Additionally, more than 650 deciduous, evergreen, and flowering trees and shrubs were planted throughout the 1.5-acre space.
Figure 5 Credit: Cathy Bazzoni, Chicago Zoological Society Caption: Located in the middle of the at Brookfield Zoo’s Hamill Family Nature Plaza is a large, open-sided, three-season pavilion that is the perfect setting during the warmer seasons for an informal chat with the animal care staff and the zoo’s animal ambassadors. Education programs such as Zoo Camp, Family Fun Saturdays, and courses for teachers may be held there, as well. After the zoo has closed for the day, the pavilion and plaza can be rented out for private functions.
Figure 6 Credit: Cathy Bazzoni, Chicago Zoological Society Caption: Hamill Family Nature Plaza’s landscape features more than 10,000 perennial plants and 8,200 square feet of perennial seeds. Additionally, more than 650 deciduous, evergreen, and flowering trees and shrubs were planted throughout the 1.5-acre space.
Figure 7 Credit: Cathy Bazzoni, Chicago Zoological Society Caption: A sensory garden at Brookfield Zoo’s Hamill Family Nature Plaza features an accessible space with raised beds, wide walkways, and planting spaces that can accommodate guests of all abilities.
Figure 8 Credit: Cathy Bazzoni, Chicago Zoological Society Caption: This is a living wall at Brookfield Zoo’s Hamill Family Nature Plaza.
Figure 9 Credit: Cathy Bazzoni, Chicago Zoological Society Caption: Floral-shaped percussion instruments allow guests to make music individually or as a family. In the background is the new Peacock Café and Grill featuring a sustainable dining-themed menu.
Figure 10 Credit: Cathy Bazzoni, Chicago Zoological Society Caption: Brookfield Zoo guests can eat at new picnic tables at the Peacock Café and Grill that look out at the Hamill Family Nature Plaza. The tables are fabricated of an eco-friendly polypropylene plastic made from 90% recycled materials and are themselves 100% recyclable.
About the Chicago Zoological Society and the Brookfield Zoo
General zoo admission is $21.95 for adults and $15.95 for children (ages three-to-eleven) and senior citizens (ages sixty-five-and-over). Toddlers and infants two-and-under are free. Parking is $14.
The Chicago Zoological Society is a private, non-profit organization that operates Brookfield Zoo on land owned by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. Founded in 1920 and chartered in 1921, the Chicago Zoological Society (C.Z.S.) brought to life the vision of Edith Rockefeller McCormick (1872-1932) to give Chicago a zoo without bars modeled on the Tierpark Hagenbeck, known in English as the Hagenbeck Animal Park, a privately-owned zoo in Hamburg founded in 1907 by Carl Hagenback, Jr. (1844-1913). In December of 1919, Edith Rockefeller McCormick – the daughter of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. and wife of Cyrus McCormick’s youngest son Harold Fowler McCormick (1872-1941) – donated eighty-three acres of land to the Forest Preserve District of Cook County to be the site of a modern zoo, to which the Forest Preserve District added ninety-eight acres. Charles L. Hutchinson (1854-1924), the President of The Art Institute of Chicago, recruited Chicago Tribune editorial cartoonist and correspondent John T. McCutcheon (1870-1949) to become the first president of the C.Z.S. McCutcheon attributed this decision to the book In Africa he had written after he participated in the 1909 Carl Akeley (1864-1926) expedition for The Field Museum of Natural History.
The Brookfield Zoo opened in 1934, during the second year of Chicago’s second World’s Fair, A Century of Progress International Exposition (1933-34). The zoo opened to the public on July 1, 1934.  The expectation had been that about 33,000 people would attend, but about 58,000 people turned out. Accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, the Brookfield Zoo met the American Humane Association’s rigorous standards for the care and welfare of animals to become the world’s first zoo to receive Humane Certified™ certification.
Open every day of the year, the Brookfield Zoo is located between the Stevenson Expressway (I-55) and Eisenhower Expressway (I-290) and is also accessible via the TriState Tollway (I-294). The North Gate Main Entrance address is 8400 West 31st Street, Brookfield, Illinois 60513. The South Gate Main Entrance address is 3300 Golf Road, Brookfield, Illinois 60513. A train station, the Hollywood (Zoo Stop) on Metra’s B.N.S.F. line, is a few blocks to the south of the South Gate entrance. The phone number is (708) 688-8000. The Website is www.czs.org/Brookfield-ZOO/Home.
 Andrea Friederici Ross, Let the Lions Roar! The Evolution of Brookfield Zoo. Chicago: Chicago Zoological Society (1997), p. 2
 John T. McCutcheon, Drawn from Memory: The Autobiography of John T. McCutcheon. Indianapolis and New York City: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc. (1950), p. 422
 Ross, p. 34
 Ross, p. 40