The history of how state and local officials reacted to the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic’s spread in Illinois can be traced in part by reviewing announcements about park, forest preserve, and zoo closures. The Chicago Park District, which already had closed all fieldhouses and playgrounds, further closed all beaches and lakefront parks, as well as Bloomingdale Trail/The 606 Trail, Grant Park, Jackson Park, and Midway Plaisance Park on Thursday, March 26, A.D. 2020. The Morton Arboretum in southwest suburban Lisle, Illinois also announced on Wednesday, April 1, A.D. 2020, it would close on Thursday, April 2, A.D. 2020, and for the same reason, because of concern that too many people were congregating there.
On Monday, March 9. A.D. 2020, Governor J.B. Pritzker declared every county in the state to be a disaster area. At the end of that week, on Friday, March 13, A.D. 2020, President Donald John Trump, Senior invoked the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (the Stafford Act) to declare a state of emergency in every one of the constituent states in the United States of America and territories of the U.S.A.
A week later, on Friday, March 20, A.D. 2020, Governor Pritzker issued a statewide stay-at-home order, effective on Saturday, March 21, A.D. 2020 through Tuesday, April 7, A.D. 2020. Business such as grocery stores, pharmacies, and pharmaceutical companies could remain open but “non-essential” businesses had to close. This would not be a matter of Governor Pritzker having declared martial law, he explained. However, Illinois residents would only be permitted to leave their homes (1) if they had essential jobs or (2) had to do shops in grocery stores or pharmacies or (3) had to seek medical care, (4) had to exercise. Restaurants had to close their dining rooms but keep their kitchens open in furtherance of take-out and delivery operations. Governor Pritzker also ordered municipal governments to halt evictions and direct additional resources to help the homeless. Although public schools closed, school districts continued to offer meals to students in need. [The Archdiocese of Chicago had already closed Catholic schools in Cook County and Lake County.] On March 20th, NBC 5 reported, “Meanwhile, all Chicago parks and libraries will be closed while the order is in effect.” Reality was a bit more complicated. On Thursday, March 26, A.D. 2020, President Trump declared a major state of emergency in Illinois.
At the end of the month, on March 31, A.D. 2020, the Chicago Tribune reported that the next day Governor Pritzker intended to issue another decree that would extend his stay-at-home order through April 30th. Other than postponing when the stay-at-home order ended, the new decree would not alter the stay-at-home order. On Thursday, April 2, A.D. 2020, Governor Pritzker issued a proclamation in which he declared “a continuing disaster exists” within the state, re-declared every county to be a disaster area, and announced he would continue to exercise the emergency powers invested in him under the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Act.
On Thursday, April 23, A.D. 2020, Governor Pritzker extended his stay-at-home order yet again until May 31st, but also modified it effective on Friday, May 1 (May Day), A.D. 2020. On Thursday, April 30, A.D. 2020, he issued a proclamation in which he used his own previous decrees and President Trump’s decrees, the fact the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) had stated having antibodies for COVID-19 do not guarantee someone cannot be re-infected with COVID-19, and the fact that both the W.H.O. and C.D.C. expected the disease to continue to spread, to re-declare every county in the state a disaster area, and announce he would continue to exercise his emergency powers.
On Tuesday, May 5, A.D. 2020, Governor Pritzker unveiled a five-phase plan to end his stay-at-home order called “Restore Illinois.” The State of Illinois Department of Public Health divides the state into eleven Emergency Health Services Regions, and for the purposes of implementing Governor Pritzker’s plan, the eleven regions are being grouped together into four larger regions that can move independently through the five-phase plan: Northeast Illinois, North-Central Illinois, Central Illinois, and Southern Illinois.
On Thursday, April 23, A.D. 2020, the State of Illinois Department of Natural Resources issued guidelines for the public to follow in natural areas. Firstly, they are to wear face coverings and bring hand sanitizers that contain at least 60% alcohol. Secondly, they are to practice social distancing by staying at least six feet apart from others. Thirdly, they are to stay home if they are sick or feel any symptoms such as fever coughing, difficulty breathing, and/or flu-like symptoms. Fourthly, individuals should visit alone or with members of their own households. Fifthly, restrict visits to local nature areas. Sixthly, if one arrives in a forest or wetland and finds a crowd gathering, one should move to another area or return at another time or on another day. Seventhly, (a) cover a cough or sneeze with facial tissue, then throw the tissue in the garbage or (b) cough or sneeze into a raised elbow.
Chicago Park District
On Tuesday, March 10, A.D. 2020, the Chicago Park District assured the public, “The health and safety of our patrons and employees is paramount. We would like to assure you that the Chicago Park District is working closely with the City of Chicago and the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) on the monitoring and response to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)… At this moment, CDPH reports the immediate risk to the… general public in Chicago remains low. As of today, March 10, the Chicago Park District has not received information suggesting any patron or employee has contracted COVID-19. We urge you to stay informed on the latest COVID-19 updates and adhere to recommendations in order to protect your health and keep our parks and communities safe… For your safety, and the safety of others, we ask that you do not go to the park if you or your child are not feeling well or traveled… to an area with widespread community transmission of COVID-19 and returned home within the last 14 days. In addition, we urge you to practice good hygiene including washing your hands with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer.”
On Friday, March 20, A.D. 2020, Michael P. Kelly, General Superintendent & Chief Executive Officer of the Chicago Park District, announced all fieldhouses would be closed from Saturday, March 21, A.D. 2020 through Tuesday, April 7, A.D. 2020.
Already, with that announcement on March 20th, Mr. Kelly stated, “With the exception of our playgrounds, all outdoor spaces are open for public use.” However, he must have come to believe he needed to be more explicit. On Monday, March 23, A.D. 2020, Mr. Kelly amended the decree to state “all Chicago Park District fieldhouses and playgrounds” would remain closed until April 7th.
March 23, 2020 Update: Chicago Park District COVID-19 Response
In accordance with Governor Pritzker’s state-wide “stay at home” order, the Chicago Park District will modify its existing COVID-19 response plan as follows:
Effective Saturday, March 21st through April 7th, all Chicago Park District park fieldhouses and playgrounds will be closed to the general public.
Beginning Monday, March 23rd, the District will cancel enhanced programming currently offered at 18 park fieldhouses.
The Chicago Park District will continue to provide critical operations including garbage pick-up and security.
With the exception of our playgrounds, all outdoor spaces are open for public use. However, we urge patrons to practice social distancing when visiting our parks.
In addition, we strongly urge patrons to take precautions to protect their health and safety such as frequently washing their hands for at least 20 seconds, avoid touching their face with unwashed hands and covering their noses and mouths when sneezing or coughing.
We also encourage residents to continue to check the Chicago Department of Public Health and Centers for Disease Control websites for the most up-to-date information and guidance.
Let’s continue to work together. It will take action from everyone to help keep our families, parks and communities safe.
Michael P. Kelly
General Superintendent & CEO
Chicago Park District
On Thursday, March 26, A.D. 2020, Mayor Lori Lightfoot issued an executive decree to close the Chicago Lakefront, The 606 Trail, and Chicago Riverwalk. In a press release misdated March 26, 2019, the City of Chicago Office of the Mayor announced, “In response to the excessive gatherings of people along Chicago’s Lakefront, Riverwalk and 606 Trail this week, effective immediately, Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot has issued an executive order closing these spaces to the public until further notice. The Mayor made the announcement alongside city officials and mayors from surrounding communities that are also grappling with the issue of social and congregate gatherings in their communities while the state’s ‘Stay at Home’ order is in effect.”
“While our parks and other green spaces offer residents a brief respite during this stay at home order, we simply must take action to prevent the large gatherings that are putting our public health at risk,” stated Mayor Lightfoot. “As we work tirelessly to flatten the curve and prevent the spread of COVID-19, we need people to stay home as much as possible. Our order to temporarily close access to the Lakefront and restrict gatherings has now become a necessary step in our effort to protect people, and to get our city through this crisis as quickly as possible.”
“Above all, we want the residents of Chicago to be safe,” stated Chicago Park District Superintendent and C.E.O. Michael Kelly. “This closure is necessary to enforce social distancing and mitigate crowding that is typical along Chicago’s lakefront but threatens the health of our city during this very delicate time.”
“The movement of people who are essential workers and others doing necessary travel must take priority during this unprecedented time. We understand the Mayor’s decision to close the Lakefront and 606 to protect our public health,” stated Melody Geraci, Interim Executive Director of the Active Transportation Alliance. “Chicagoans should stay home as much as possible and, when spending time outside, they should follow public health guidelines by maintaining social distancing and staying away from busy areas.”
The City of Chicago noted that the Chicago Police Department has the authority to enforce Mayor Lightfoot’s executive order “through citations up to $500 and additional measures,” but the police would be “primarily focusing on educating residents about the new order and providing warnings to individuals using these closed spaces. To further ensure compliance with the order, the Department will move forward with issuing citations if individuals don’t adhere to initial warnings from police officers.”
“For the most part, Chicagoans have been doing well at maintaining social distancing but with the number of people gathering on the lakefront in recent days, it is necessary that we shut down these areas for the health and safety of our residents,” stated Charlie Beck, Interim Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department. “Again it is the responsibility of every Chicagoan to do their part to help keep each other safe and following this order will save the lives of our fellow neighbors.”
The closed parks are Juneway Beach & Park, Rogers Beach & Park, Howard Beach & Park, Fargo Beach & Park, Griffin Beach & Park, Leone Beach & Park, Loyola Beach & Park, Prinz Beach & Park, Doria Beach & Park, North Shore Beach & Park, Hartigan Beach & Park, Berger Park, Park 559, Lane Beach & Park, Lincoln Park, Lake Shore Park, Harold Washington Park, Addams (Jane) Memorial Park, DuSable Park, Grant Park, Northerly Island, Burnham Park, Jackson Park, Midway Plaisance Park, South Shore Cultural Center Park & Beach, Ashe Beach Park, Rainbow Beach & Park, Park 566 (USX), Steelworkers Park, Calumet Beach & Park, and Bloomingdale Trail/The 606. Click here for a full list of closures. The City of Chicago has also closed the Chicago Riverwalk, Millennium Park, and Olive Park. It is interesting that the Chicago Park District stated the City of Chicago closed Millennium Park and Olive Park, because that indicates they are municipal parks (meaning they are owned by the city government as a corporate body) rather than the Chicago Park District, which is a separate municipal corporation from the city government.
Before they merged into the unified Chicago Park District, Chicago had twenty-two independent park districts. During the Second Great Depression (1929-1941), all of them became financially insolvent. By 1934, eighteen of them had defaulted on their bonded indebtedness, nine had fallen behind in payment of their employees’ salaries or hourly wages, and all of them owed money to contractors and suppliers. On April 10, 1934 a referendum was held in Chicago in which voters approved an act of the Illinois General Assembly that authorized the consolidation of Chicago’s twenty-two park districts, the Park Consolidation Act (1934). 
It was considered inefficient for both the Chicago Park District and City of Chicago to maintain roadways and parklands, so in 1959, to eliminate such inefficiencies the two government bodies entered into a consolidation agreement. Essentially, they swapped. The Chicago Park District assumed control of the City of Chicago’s 250 municipal parks, play-lots, natatoriums, and beaches, while the City of Chicago assumed control of the Chicago Park District’s boulevards. In addition, the Chicago Police Department absorbed the Park Police.
On May Day, the Chicago Park District announced, “In accordance with Governor Pritzker’s modified Stay at Home order, all Chicago Park District playgrounds and fieldhouses will remain closed through May 31st. All previously scheduled park programs and events have been cancelled.” The lakefront parks and trails will remain closed through May 31st, as will The 606 Trail. Additionally, Chicago Park District golf courses and driving ranges, as well as harbors, will remain closed. In some places, the Chicago Park District has installed barricades and fences to deter people from trying to access areas.
The Chicago Park District stated, “In efforts to discourage large gatherings and close contact activities in the parks, the Chicago Park District has removed basketball rims, tennis nets and other features in locations where social distancing was not being observed. These amenities will be returned when health and safety guidelines allow.”
As of now, the Chicago Park District will make summer programs available to view online on Monday, June 1, A.D. 2020 and online registration for summer programs will start on Thursday, June 11, A.D. 2020 and Friday, June 12, A.D. 2020. Chicagoans will be able to register in person on Saturday, June 13, A.D. 2020, unless Governor Pritzker and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.) deem it unsafe.
The Chicago Park District still plans to provide its summer day camp, but it will be different, and it will run from Monday, July 6, A.D. 2020 through Friday, July 31, A.D. 2020. All other summertime programs should begin July 6th. Please note registration and program dates are subject to change. Should any changes to registration and program dates occur, the Chicago Park District will contact registered participants and provide updated information on its Website.
The Chicago Park District is promoting today, Wednesday, May 6, A.D. 2020 as “Chicago Moves Day.” This year, it has the theme “Say Home, Stay Active!” The Chicago Moves Day team is streaming fitness videos with various workout formats. It began at 11:30 a.m. Participants should use the hashtags #ChicagoMovesDay and #MoveYourWayChicago.
The Forest Preserve District of Cook County and theforest preserve districts of collar counties have kept most of the forest preserves open but have closed buildings and public washrooms. Thus, it is even more important than in normal times that visitors go to the washroom at home before visiting a forest preserve. Visitors (especially pedestrians who are walking or hiking on the trails) should wear masks and maintain social distancing on the trails.
The Cook CountyForest Preserve District continues to keep most forest preserves open so residents can get fresh air, exercise by walking, hiking, jogging, or biking on trails, and generally have access to nature. However, all public events, volunteer activities, and permitted events scheduled through Sunday, May 31, A.D, 2020 are cancelled. All public restrooms are closed. One should wash one’s hands before and after paying a visit to a forest preserve, the Cook County F.P.D. advises.
Buildings, grounds, trails, and washrooms at Nature Centers are closed to the public until May 31st. The Forest Preserve District of Cook County General Headquarters, Caldwell Woods Warming Shelter, the Volunteer Resources Center and Dan Ryan Woods Visitor Center building and nature play area are closed to the public through May 31st.
Parking lots at the following forest preserves are closed through May 31st, Arie Crown Forest, Black Partridge Woods, Busse Forest Elk Pasture, Caldwell Woods, and Dan Ryan Woods-South. Additionally, parking lots at the following forest preserves are closed Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through May 31st: Bunker Hill, Busse Woods, Catherine Chevalier Woods, LaBagh Woods, Maple Woods, Pulaski Woods, Saganashkee Woods, and Wolf Road Woods. The Swallow Cliff Stairs and parking lots at Swallow Cliff Woods-North and Swallow Cliff Woods-South, Cherry Hill Woods, and Teason’s Woods are closed to the public through May 31st.
Originally, the spring trout season was scheduled to begin on Saturday, April 4, A.D. 2020, but it has been postponed indefinitely. Effective on Monday, March 30, A.D. 2020, both the parking lots and the fishing lakes at Axehead Lake, Belleau Lake, Green Lake Woods, Horsetail Lake, and Sag Quarries are closed indefinitely. Parking lots at Chippewa Woods and Iroquois Woods (near Des Plaines, Illinois) are closed, too.
All campgrounds are closed through May 31st. Starting on Saturday, May 2, A.D. 2020, Off-Leash Dog Areas are closed until further notice. Boating centers and the Go Ape Treetop Adventure Course are all closed until further notice. The Rolling Knolls Disc Golf Course is closed through May 31st. Further, some wintertime land-management closures have been extended until May 31st. Click here to check for updates on the Website of the Cook County F.P.D. of and for additional information such as precautions to follow.
To the north, the Forest Preserve District of Lake County is keeping forest preserves open from 6:30 a.m. until sunset., so long as visitors adhere to the six-foot social distancing rule and other public safety and health guidelines. On Friday, March 13, A.D. 2020, the Lake County Forest Preserve District announced that to conform with C.D.C. guidelines regarding COVID-19 it had cancelled all programs starting at 5:00 p.m. on March 13th through Tuesday, March 31, A.D. 2020. Educational facilities, including the Dunn Museum in Libertyville, Illinois and the Ryerson Welcome Center in Riverwoods, Illinois, would be closed, though the restrooms in the Ryerson Welcome Center would remain open. Volunteer restoration workdays were cancelled. At that point, all forest preserves were open and the Lake County Forest Preserve District’s General Offices in Libertyville remained open, but the Forest Preserve District encouraged Lake County residents to use www.LCFPD.org.
The Lake County F.P.D. stated, “Your safety and health are our highest priority…We advise everyone who visits pen public buildings and preserves to follow Centers for Disease Control & Preventions recommended COVID-19 prevention strategies.”
On March 31, A.D. 2020, the Lake County F.P.D. announced all buildings, dog exercise areas, marines, restrooms, and playgrounds were closed until further notice. All programs, volunteer workdays, picnic shelter permits, and special use permits were cancelled through Thursday, April 30, A.D. 2020. April shelter rentals would be refunded. There was no regularly scheduled maintenance work being performed.
On Thursday, April 23, A.D. 2020, the Forest Preserve District of Lake County announced all public buildings, restrooms, playgrounds, marinas, golf courses, visitor centers, model airplane fields, and dog exercises are closed until further notice. All education programs, volunteer workdays, picnic shelter rentals, open area reservations, and special use permits through Sunday, May 31, A.D. 2020 were cancelled. Shelter rentals for May will be refunded. Call (847) 367-6640 to communicate with the district staff with customer service questions. Forest preserves would remain open from 6:30 a.m. until sunset, so long as visitors maintained six-foot social distancing. Maintenance work is being done at a minimum.
The Lake County F.P.D. stated, “Pack it in, pack it out, and leave no trace. Take all trash with you, including pet waste, and dispose of it at home. We are working to keep the preserve safe, clean and open for use. Visitors can help in this effort by using forest preserve trash cans as little as possible.”
The Lake County F.P.D. made a series of announcements every day between the 16th and 21st of March. Firstly, the Lake County F.P.D. announced on Monday, March 16, A.D. 2020 that the customer service and permit office at the Lake County Forest Preserves General Offices in Libertyville, Illinois was closed through Tuesday, March 31, A.D. 2020. The lobby and restrooms would remain open. Also, the Greenbelt Cultural Center in North Chicago, Illinois was open by appointment only.
Secondly, on Tuesday, March 17, A.D. 2020 (Saint Patrick’s Day), the Lake County F.P.D. stated, “We are recommending cancellation of picnic and camping permits from Tuesday, March 17, 2020, until Tuesday [sic] through March 31, 2020. Any users effected by this recommendation may request a refund or reschedule dates for their permits. This process may be extended in the future, but as of now refunds will only be provided for rentals during this period.”
Thirdly, the Lake County F.P.D. announced on Wednesday, March 18, A.D. 2020 that the Independence Grove Visitor Center was closed until further notice. Fourthly, on Thursday, March 19, A.D. 2020, the Lake County F.P.D. announced that all restrooms and playgrounds were closed until further notice. Fifthly, the Lake County F.P.D. announced on Friday, March 20, A.D. 2020 that all buildings, restrooms, and playgrounds were closed until further notice. The forest preserves would remain open from 6:30 a.m. until sunset, but “normal, regularly scheduled maintenance” would not take place. Sixthly, on Saturday, March 21, A.D. 2020, the Lake County F.P.D. announced that all Dog Exercise Areas were closed until further notice.
The next week, on Wednesday, March 25, A.D. 2020, the Lake County F.P.D. announced the “Spring Trout Season Opener” at Lakewood F.P.D.’s Banana Lake on Saturday, April 4, A.D. 2020 would be postponed. “We will reassess the situation and provide an update within the next month. Fishing is permitted in the preserves, unless otherwise noted.” Two days later, on Friday, March 27, A.D. 2020, the Lake County F.P.D. released a statement reminding visitors to maintain six-foot social distancing between (individual) “people or family groups.”
To the west, the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County announced on Friday, March 27, A.D. 2020 that the spring rainbow trout season opener, which had been scheduled to take place on April 4th (as in Lake County), has been postponed indefinitely at three DuPage County F.P.D. lakes to conform with Governor Pritzker’s stay-at-home order. To ensure compliance, the main entrances to Grove Lake at Wood Dale Grove in Wood Dale, Illinois; Silver Lake at Blackwell in Warrenville, Illinois; and Pickerel Lake at Pratt’s Wayne Woods in Wayne Illinois; would be closed on the weekend of Saturday, April 4, A.D. 2020 and Sunday, April 5, A.D. 2020. All three lakes would remain closed to fishing indefinitely. At Blackwell, boat rentals that had been scheduled to begin on Silver Lake on April 4th was postponed indefinitely, while the off-leash dog area and the McKee Marsh parking lot would remain open. The Stearns Road parking lots at Pratt’s Wayne Woods also remained open.
On Friday, April 3, A.D. 2020, the DuPage County F.P.D. stated, “The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County hopes to keep DuPage forest preserves open as long as visitors strictly adhere to the CDC’s social distancing and public health guidelines to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.”
“Every visitor plays a critical role in practicing safe social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” stated Daniel Hebreard, President of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County. “It is imperative that everyone in DuPage County — without exception – follows social distancing and public health guidelines.”
“We understand that nature and our open spaces play an important role in the physical and mental health of residents,” Mr. Hebreard added. “However, if visitors decide not to follow the guidelines set forth by the District and CDC, the District will be forced to close its preserves indefinitely.”
That day, Friday, April 3, A.D. 2020, the DuPage County F.P.D. “closed Rocky Glen Waterfall at Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve in Darien to stop visitors from congregating in the area,” the DuPage County F.P.D. stated. “With warmer weather on the way, public interest in forest preserves and outdoor activities deemed essential under the governor’s executive order are expected to increase.”
“The District expects all visitors to understand the seriousness of the current situation and importance of social distancing while engaging in the limited outdoor activities allowed under the executive order,” stated Ed Stevenson, Executive Director of the DuPage County Forest Preserve District.
Noting that most of the 26,000 acres in the DuPage County forest preserve system remained accessible, though all visitor centers and other buildings, all restrooms, and all animal-care facilities were closed to the public, noted the DuPage County F.P.D. [The animal-care facilities were the Willowbrook Wildlife Center, the Kline Creek Farm, and the Danada Equestrian Center.] For a complete list of what is open and what is closed, visit dupageforest.org/coronavirus.
The DuPage County F.P.D. “actively promotes compliance with the governor’s executive order and encourages visitors to follow the following recommendations. One should stay home if one is sick or has been near someone who is sick. One should practice social distancing of six feet from the next person, which ought to be possible because limestone trails are six to eight feet wide. If it is not possible to maintain social distancing, one should move to a different location. Be certain others know one is approaching if they cannot see one. [The DuPage County F.P.D. suggest using a remark about “passing from behind.”] If this is not possible, move to a different location. The DuPage County F.P.D. prohibits gathering in groups in a forest preserve and cautions against touching surfaces others might touch, such as signs, benches, and shelters. All restrooms and water fountains are turned off, so plan accordingly.
On Wednesday, April 15, A.D. 2020, the DuPage County F.P.D. announced that the Willowbrook Wildlife Center in Glen Ellyn, Illinois would continue to take in orphaned animal babies, bit would limit “their admission die to the COVID-19 outbreak.” The Willowbrook Wildlife Center is functioning “with minimum staff and no volunteers, which limits the number of orphaned wildlife it can safely care for at the center.”
“Unfortunately, this is our new normal during the pandemic,” stated Dr. Sarah Reich, Staff Veterinarian and Wildlife Rehabilitation and Research Manager at Willowbrook Wildlife Center. “We are entering our busiest season with one-third the staffing.”
“Please don’t force us to make decisions about who to save simply because you want to tear down an old shed or dead tree in your yard and don’t want a family of racoons under your deck,” Dr. Reich added. “Now is actually the time to leave these things in your yard so native animals have a safe space to raise their young.”
The DuPage County F.P.D. stated, “The public can help by allowing native wildlife shelter on their property, checking for eastern cottontail nests before mowing, watching their dogs in their yard, and keeping domestic cats indoors.”
This is the protocol DuPage County residents should follow before bringing in animal orphans. Firstly, check the Willowbrook Webpage to find out which animal species have reached capacity at Willbrook. If a resident has an animal that belongs to a species that is still being accepted, the resident should then call the Willowbrook Center at (630) 942-6200 to drop off the animal curbside with no person-to-person contact. The Willowbrook Center accepts wildlife every day from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
At this time, Willbrook’s visitor center is closed, as are the outdoor exhibit, nature trails, and surrounding forest preserve. This allows the staff to concentrate on “core animal-care services.”
Credit: Forest Preserve District of DuPage County Caption: This video, entitled “Visiting the Preserves During COVID-19,” has “safety and etiquette guidelines” for visitors.
Further to the west, in Will County, the Forest Preserve District of Will County has kept open forest preserves and trails throughout the stay-at-home order and announced on Friday, April 24, A.D. 2020 it would re-open forest preserve access area parking lots at boat launches on Friday, May 1, A.D. 2020, in accordance with Governor Pritzker “modifying his stay-at-home order… to fight the new coronavirus pandemic in Illinois… However, all visitor centers, dog parks, playgrounds, latrines and water fountains will remain closed through the duration of the stay-at-home mandate’s extension, which now ends May 30.”
The Will County F.P.D. urged forest preserve visitors to follow the guidelines the Illinois Department of Natural Resources issued on Thursday, April 23, A.D. 2020 as “outdoor recreation safety measures.” Visitors must continue to practice social distancing.
They cannot gather in groups larger than ten and if they do so they will be cited by the Will County Forest Preserve Police. Visitors should not congregate in the forest preserves or at trailheads.
The Will County F.P.D. warned, “It may be necessary to temporarily close sites where social distancing is not being maintained. A spike in cases will overwhelm healthcare centers and workers and more people could die.”
“Due to the changes in the stay-at-home order, the Forest Preserve is able to open our preserve access areas and boat launches,” stated Ralph Schultz, the Will County F.P.D.’s Chief Operating Officer. “Social distancing directives will apply and we would encourage the use of face masks at all times. Our Forest Preserve Police will continue to patrol our preserves to ensure visitors adhere to the state’s guidelines for their safety and the safety of others.”
The Will County F.P.D. stated, “Visitors must follow the state’s order of no more than two people in a boat.” However, boat and equipment rentals at Monee Reservoir will not resume. When the stay-at-home order ends, the visitor center will re-open and be staffed and stocked. Until then, only shoreline fishing will be permitted. In general, shoreline fishing is allowed in the forest preserves (except in areas where signs have been posted that state otherwise), so long as fishermen practice social distancing. Dog parks will continue to be closed.
All picnicking, camping, and event permits through May 30th are cancelled. No permits for future dates can be reserved until further notice. Tickets issued by the Will County Forest Preserve Police can be paid through the mail.
“In the best interests of everyone, stay close to home,” Mr. Schultz added. “Be close to those who need you the most and try to appreciate the nature that exists all around you. We will reopen all of our visitor centers and dog parks as soon as state and health officials deem your risk of infection from COVID-19 has subsided.”
All public programs and volunteer workdays through the end of May are cancelled. Registrants will be notified accordingly. Once the governor lifts his state stay-at-home order, the Will County F.P.D. will resume programs that can be held in accordance with federal public health guidelines.
The following programs have been cancelled for the year: “Food Truck Fridays,” “Arts & Nature on the River,” and “Hummingbird Fest and Nature Celebration,” and “Riverview Farmstead Open House.” The same is true of this season’s bird-watching programs at the Lake Renwick Heron Rookery Nature Preserve.
These exhibits at Isle a la Cache Museum will be rescheduled: Plant by Numbers and Top Ten Truths About Native Peoples. The exhibit Don’t be a Zombie! Be Prepared at Plum Creek Nature Center has been postponed. The “Pedal the Prairie” bicycle rides are being rescheduled.
Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie
The Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie is a federal nature preserve in Will County, south of Joliet, that is home to bison. It is on the site of the former Joliet Arsenal (like the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery and the CenterPoint Intermodal Center). Established in 1996 and maintained by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s U.S. Forest Service, it is the first national tallgrass prairie.
As of Tuesday, March 17, A.D. 2020, its office closed and since then the staff has worked from home. The trails remain open daily from 4:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. In accordance with the recommendations of another federal agency, the C.D.C., the restrooms at the Wauponsee Trailhead closed to the public effective on March 30th.
Chicago Botanic Garden
As of now, the Chicago Botanic Garden in north suburban Glencoe, Illinois will remain closed through Tuesday, June 30, A.D. 2020. The following events are cancelled: Mother’s Day Brunch, Camp CBG, field trips, and all other programs, on-site classes, and events schedule through June 30th. Anyone who purchased tickets or reserved places for classes, should e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with the current order number; one’s name, phone number, and e-mail address; and a message that indicates if one (a) wants a voucher for a future date, (b) to donate the money toward the upkeep of the Chicago Botanic Garden, or (c) a refund.
The Morton Arboretum
On the Ides of March (Wednesday, March 15, A.D. 2020), The Morton Arboretum announced that the buildings would be closed through Sunday, March 29, A.D. 2020, but the grounds would remain open to the public. The closed facilities included the Visitor Center, the Children’s Garden, and the Maze Garden, but there would be some access to washrooms. At that point, private events scheduled to be held at the Morton Arboretum through March 29th were to be rescheduled or cancelled. The Morton Arboretum noted in the press release on March 15th that it had “previously announced cancellations of educational programs (through April 12), special events (until April 10), and closures of The Sterling Morton Library and Plant Clinic.”
Gerard T. Donnelly, Ph.D., President and C.E.O. of The Morton Arboretum, stated they were taking into account guidance from the DuPage County Health Department, Illinois Department of Public Health, the C.D.C., and the W.H.O. “With 1,700 acres of trees and outdoor space, The Morton Arboretum is in a position to provide members and visitors with a place to get out of their homes while still following social distancing recommendations,” Dr. Donnelly stated. “Being among trees and nature also offers people physical and psychological benefits that are especially valuable at this time.”
However, on Wednesday, April 1, A.D. 2020, The Morton Arboretum announced it would be closed from Thursday, April 2, A.D. 2020 through Thursday, April 30, A.D. 2020. Easter-related events such as Breakfast with the Bunny, and all other special events scheduled for April are cancelled. All private events are cancelled or will be re-scheduled. All classes are cancelled or postponed.
In a press release, The Morton Arboretum stated, “The Arboretum made its 1,700 acres available for essential outdoor activity as long as it was safe and prudent to do so. The proactive, full closure of the Arboretum’s site is to ensure social distancing in support of public health. The safety and wellbeing of Arboretum visitors and employees is top priority.”
In west suburban Lombard, Illinois, all Lilac Time (May 1-17, 2020) events in and around Lilacia Park are cancelled or postponed. However, as of now, Lilacia Park remains open, provided visitors maintain social distancing.
Lincoln Park Zoo
On Tuesday, March 3, A.D. 2020 the Lincoln Park Zoo in Lincoln Park on the North Side of Chicago noted that according to the C.D.C., COVID-19 was a “respiratory illness that can spread from person to person” but there were no reports of “widespread transmission of COVID-19 from humans to animals.”
At that time, guests were able to wash their hands in restrooms near the Regenstein Macaque Forest, inside Bird’s Eye Bar & Grill, near the East Gate, inside the Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo, inside the Regenstein Small Mammal-Reptile House, inside the Foreman Pavilion, inside the (seasonally open) The Patio at Café Brauer, and inside the Main Barn at Farm-in-the-Zoo. The Lincoln Park Zoo blog post closed with the statement, “To help us take care of our guests, staff, and animals, the zoo kindly asks to refrain from visiting the zoo if you are not feeling well.”
On Thursday, March 12, A.D. 2020, the Lincoln Park Zoo announced it would be closed to the public through Friday, April 10, A.D. 2020. In a blog post, the Lincoln Park Zoo stated, “Our top priority is the health and safety of our staff, guests, volunteers, and, of course, the animals in our care. It is the zoo’s responsibility to do what we can to help reduce the rapidity of the spread of COVID-19.”
As of now, the Lincoln Park Zoo is closed until further notice. Beginning on Saturday, May 2, A.D. 2020, the Lincoln Park Zoo will have virtual events for which one can buy tickets. The 42nd Annual Run for the Zoo will be a “virtual event.” Click here to register.
Click here to make a donation to the Lincoln Park Zoo. There is an option to make a one-time donation or donate a recurring sum.
Initially, on Friday, March 13, A.D. 2020, the Chicago Zoological Society (C.Z.S.), which founded and manages the Brookfield Zoo in west suburban Brookfield, Illinois, announced it would close all indoor spaces between Saturday, March 14, A.D. 2020 through Wednesday, April 1, A.D. 2020 (at a minimum). “The Chicago Zoological Society (CZS), based on the guidance set forth by state and local officials, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and consistent with the Forest Preserves of Cook County and the Chicago Botanic Gardens, has made the decision to close all indoor public spaces within and events at Brookfield Zoo effective March 14 through at least April 1. This includes all animal exhibits, the Discovery Center, restaurants and gift shops. Food and merchandise will be available for purchase only at outdoor walk-up locations and mobile food and merchandize carts.”
“The health and safety of our guests, volunteers, staff, and animals remains of paramount importance,” stated Stuart Strahl, Ph.D., President and C.E.O. of the C.Z.S. Dr. Strahl announced in February he would resign after seventeen years at the helm. “As an extension of the Forest Preserves of Cook County, we felt it was important to find a responsible way to allow guests to enjoy our outdoor green space. We encourage common-sense health precautions as recommended by the CDC, including washing your hands, sanitizing belongings and surfaces, and avoid touching your face. We ask that guests who are not feeling well please refrain from visiting Brookfield Zoo until fully recovered.”
On Wednesday, March 18, A.D. 2020, the C.Z.S. announced the closure of the Brookfield Zoo’s buildings and grounds from Thursday, March 19, A.D. 2020 through Thursday, April 30, A.D. 2020. In a press release, the C.Z.S. stated, “To help minimize the spread of COVID-19, effective tomorrow, March 19, Brookfield Zoo will close all of its facilities, both grounds and buildings, to the public through April 30. Staff will continue to monitor and evaluate developments on a daily basis in order to establish an appropriate date for reopening the zoo’s facilities to the public.”
“The health and safety of our guests, volunteers, staff, and animals is of paramount importance,” Dr. Strahl stated. “We have been extremely diligent in communicating to staff the most recent updates from health officials, increased the strength of disinfectants used within the park to hospital grade, posted signage reminding guests and staff of proper hygiene and social distancing, suspended staff travel, and instructed employees to stay home if they were not feeling well. As the situation has progressed, we have a responsibility to do our part to reduce the risk of the virus spreading.”
As of now, the Brookfield Zoo is closed until further notice. One can stay abreast of events at the Brookfield Zoo by watching “Bring the Zoo to You” Facebook Live chats.
The Chicago Zoological Society is a non-profit organization that relies on Brookfield Zoo ticket sales, gift shop sales, and fundraisers. The Chicago Zoological Society’s largest annual fundraiser gala is “The Whirl,” presented by the C.Z.S.’s Women’s Board and Board of Trustees. This year, the event was called the “Rain Forests of the Virtu-Whirl,” and instead of being a gala it was an auction held from Thursday, April 23, A.D. 2020 to Saturday, April 25, A.D. 2020. The money raised for the Chicago Zoological Society goes not only toward feeding and caring for the animals, but also to pay for conservation, education, and research programs.
One can make a donation to defray the cost of feeding and caring for the animals. If one links one’s Amazon.com account to the Brookfield Zoo via the AmazonSmile program, with every eligible purchase one makes, Amazon will donate .05% to the C.Z.S.
On Sunday, April 5, A.D. 2020, the Chicago Zoological Society announced that layoffs were necessary and had taken place the previous day. In a press release, the C.Z.S. stated, “The COVID-19 pandemic has placed unanticipated and urgent financial pressures on many businesses, including nonprofit cultural institutions such as the Chicago Zoological Society… The zoo has been closed since March 19 and has practically no earned revenue stream available at this time. CZS was forced to make the difficult decision to place nearly one-third of its staff on temporary lay-off/unpaid furlough as of April 4.”
These staff members are eligible to receive unemployment insurance. The C.Z.S. stated, “In addition, furloughed/laid-off staff will continue to receive medical and other benefits for a period of time. The duration of the furlough/temporary lay-offs is unknown at this time due to the evolving COVID-19 situation.”
The week of April 19-25, 2020 was National Volunteer Week, and the Chicago Zoological Society thanked its 1,400 volunteers who supplement the staff. About twenty of the volunteers, dubbed the “Merry Mask Makers” have been sewing masks for the animal caretakers on staff.
John G. Shedd Aquarium
Initially, the John G. Shedd Aquarium on the Museum Campus in Burnham Park announced on Friday, March 13, A.D. 2020 would be closed to the public for two weeks through Sunday, March 29, A.D. 2020. All scheduled events for that time frame were to be canceled or postponed.
“We have a responsibility to communities, schoolchildren, staff, volunteers and more to do our part to help protect the public’s health by temporarily supporting the effort for social distancing,” stated Dr. Bridget Coughlin, President and C.E.O. of the Shedd Aquarium. “We look forward to welcoming everyone back to the aquarium soon to be continued to spark compassion, curiosity and conservation for the aquatic animal world.”
Just as some staff members must continue to work on-site to care for the animals at the Lincoln Park Zoo and Brookfield Zoo, they must do at the Shedd Aquarium. In a press release, the Shedd Aquarium stated, “Critical operations staff will continue working onsite at the aquarium to provide vital care to the animals and infrastructure. This includes Shedd’s dedicated caretakers and veterinarians, who will continue to provide the highest standards of professional care and welfare for all animals onsite. Additionally, employees who can work from home will continue to do so, and those who do not have the option to work from home will be still be compensated according to their regular working schedule and rate for the two-week period.”
Subsequently, the Shedd Aquarium extended the period in which it will be closed to the public through Monday, April 20, A.D. 2020. On Friday, March 20, A.D. 2020, the Shedd Aquarium announced it would remain closed through Thursday, April 30, A.D. 2020.
“As impacts of COVID-19 evolve, we continue to assess and evaluate both near-term and long-term impacts, ensure the future sustainability of our operations as well as do our part to bolster the wellness of our community,” stated Dr. Coughlin. “Our animal caretakers continue to ensure exceptional welfare of the 32,000 animals in our care – like penguins Wellington, Edward and Annie – during the closure, and we are striving to provide exceptional ways for guests to continue to look nature in the eye through our web-based and social medium platforms. Until the time when we can welcome people back through our physical doors, we are committed to continuing to welcome them through our digital ones to fill them with compassion, curiosity and conservation for the aquatic animal world.”
On Friday, April 3, A.D. 2020, the Shedd Aquarium announced it had lent a KingFisher instrument to help test for COVID-19. “Temporarily closing its doors out of abundance of caution and to do its part for social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19 isn’t the only way Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium is doing its part during these uncertain times. The local aquarium lent a laboratory instrument to assist the Illinois Department of Public Health with coronavirus testing this past weekend.”
The scientists who work in the Shedd Aquarium’s molecular and microbial ecology laboratory are telecommuting, so they were able to quickly approve a request to loan their lab’s “robotic extraction device” (which is only a handful in the state) to be used for COVID-19 testing. A product of Thermo Fisher, this instrument extracts DNA and RNA from biological samples. This is the first step in the C.D.C.’s testing protocol for COVID-19. A second test is then administered to discern if the virus is present. This process can be undertaken manually, but it is time-consuming and the instrument is much more efficient. It would take all day to process about twenty samples by hand but with the KingFisher one can run more than ninety samples in half that time.
The Shedd Aquarium is the only American aquarium with an onsite molecular and microbial ecology lab. With the KingFisher and other tools, veterinarians can make a diagnosis within hours instead of days. The Shedd aquarium stated, “Research conducted using the instrument had helped boost our dolphins’ immunity, fine-tune water-quality parameters and even help save endangered turtles. Further, it shows the commitment to learning about the environments that animals live in, both at the aquarium and in the wild, and providing top animal care and welfare.”
The Shedd Aquarium’s Microbiome Laboratory exists because of a magnanimous gift from the Grainger Foundation, which enabled the Shedd Aquarium to build the lab and equip it with advanced technology such as the KingFisher. This is called the Aquarium Microbiome Project. Headed by Chrissy Cabay, Director of Scientific Advancement, it receives sponsorship from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the National Science Foundation, and the Arthur and Elaine V. Johnson Foundation.
The Shedd Aquarium stated, “Shedd Aquarium’s first-of-its-kind Microbiome Laboratory looks all the way down to the microbial level to understand the basis of healthy aquarium ecosystems. By studying relationships between the countless unseen organisms in our environments and the animals in our care, our scientists are redefining our understanding of water quality, not just at Shedd but our aquariums everywhere.”
As of now, the Shedd Aquarium will be closed until its executives receive “further guidance and instructions” from officials with the State of Illinois and City of Chicago. This being the case, ticket sales are temporarily unavailable. Click here to make a donation of between $25 and $1,000 (or a sum of one’s choice) to the Shedd Aquarium.
The public can follow the daily lives of the Shedd Aquarium’s animals via Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Parents (and other caregivers) can use the Sea Curious YouTube channel to impart lessons about sea life. One can also view live camera inside the Underwater Beauty exhibit. Also, there are 360 Keep Sharks Swimming videos that allow one to see sharks swimming in the Shedd Aquarium and in the Bahamas.
If one pre-purchased tickets for the period in question, one may reschedule the tickets or request a refund. E-mail email@example.com with questions about tickets, group reservations, and experience reservations.
Help Keep the Lights On
If you like this content, you can help keep more of it coming with a one-time donation of $1.
 The City of Chicago means the municipal government of Chicago, a corporate body chartered by the State of Illinois, which is to say Chicago as a body politic, not to be confused with the city of Chicago, meaning Chicago as a place.
 On Wednesday, April 15, A.D. 2020, Charlie Beck stepped down as Interim Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department and received a police escort to the airport. In a ceremony, he gave his badge to David Brown, whom Mayor Lori Lightfoot appointed Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department. Mr. Brown had previously served as Chief of the Dallas Police Department. He would take office as Acting Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department until the City Council confirmed his appointment. Mr. Beck held the office for twenty weeks since November.
 George T. Donohue, “Park Consolidation in Chicago,” Park and Recreation, November, 1936, VOL. XX, No. 3, p. 103
 1936 Annual Report Chicago Park District, p. 7
 For some reason, the Forest Preserve District of Cook County has re-branded as the “Forest Preserves of Cook County” but continues to be identified by its original name in official documents.
 The Forest Preserve District of Lake County has rebranded itself “Lake County Forest Preserves.”
 Unlike in Cook County, where the board of commissioners is also the forest preserve district board of commissioners, and, thus, the president of the county board of commissioners is also the president of the forest preserve district board of commissioners, DuPage County has a separate board of commissioners for the forest preserve district. Daniel Hebreard started out in the DuPage County Forest Preserve District as a ranger in 2005 and earned his Master’s Degree in Business Administration (M.B.A.) at Benedictine University (formerly Illinois Benedictine College) in Lisle, Illinois along the way. In 2018, he was elected President of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County.
 The Chicago Horticultural Society manages the Chicago Botanic Garden, which occupies land that belongs to theCook County Forest Preserve District, just like the Brookfield Zoo in west suburban Brookfield, Illinois, and the Chicago Horticultural Society and Chicago Zoological Society have the same kind of relationship with the Forest Preserves of Cook County that the Museums in the Park and the Lincoln Park Zoo have with the Chicago Park District.