Stories by Patty Wetli

When a Wetland Is Too Wet, Sometimes Nature Needs a Plumbing Assist

If marsh birds like the pied-billed grebe, pictured, return to Powderhorn Lake, conservationists will judge the wetlands restoration a success. (simardfrancois / Pixabay)

A wetlands restoration project is underway at Powderhorn Lake Forest Preserve in the Calumet region, where construction of a human-made water control device will recreate a more natural system of drainage.

Native Garden Registry Gets Green Thumbs Up From City Council

Native plants are highly beneficial for the environment, but they often get mistaken for weeds. (Patty Wetli / WTTW News)

The creation of the Native and Pollinator Garden Registry means Chicago gardeners now have protection from overzealous ticket writers. And plants like milkweed can take their rightful place alongside other “flowers” instead of being mistaken for weeds.

Monarchs Roosting at Midewin Are Just One Reason To Get Outside This Weekend

Monarch butterflies roosting in Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. (Courtesy of Ron Kapala)

Large numbers of monarch butterflies are making a pit stop at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie during their annual fall migration. That’s just one of the ways to enjoy and explore nature this weekend.

Chicago Passes Watered-Down Plastic Foodware ‘Ban’ That Critics Call Greenwashing

(Filmbetrachter / Pixabay)

Under the new law, restaurants will only provide single-use plastic utensils by request. Supporters called the ordinance an important first step toward waste reduction but opponents said it will do little to stem the plastic tsunami.

Feds’ Plan To Save Endangered Rusty Patched Bumble Bee Misses Mark, Critics Say

The endangered rusty patched bumble bee. (Courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Four years after the rusty patched bumble bee was placed on the endangered species list, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has released its final recovery plan for the insect, a plan critics say manages to go too far and yet not far enough at the same time.

Park District Defends Gates at Jackson Park To Keep People Out of Wooded Island at Night

Wooded Island’s Japanese Garden, in spring. (Patty Wetli / WTTW News)

“I know people are upset but you can’t tell me there’s not bad activity there after dark,” Mike Kelly, CEO of the Chicago Park District, said in defense of gates the agency installed that are now at the center of another controversy brewing at Jackson Park.

Climate Report: Summer 2021 Warmest on Record in US


Temperatures edged out the record for the continental U.S. set back in 1936 during the “Dust Bowl” summer, according to the latest climate report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Riot Fest Is Coming to Douglass Park, Whether Neighbors Want It or Not

Riot Fest is set to return to Douglass Park in September. (Riot Fest / Facebook)

Less than a month after the Lyrical Lemonade Summer Smash closed down a swath of Douglass Park and surrounding streets, Riot Fest is about to do the same. Residents said they're fed up with the loss of green space and the “literal paywall.”

Park District Responds to Calls for Lakefront Life Rings With Plan To Cut Off Access to ‘No Swim’ Locations

A sign on the Chicago lakefront warns people to avoid potentially dangerous areas, such as piers. (WTTW News)

After recent drownings in Lake Michigan, activists have been clamoring for the Chicago Park District to install life rings along the lakefront, but the agency’s safety plan reinforces messaging surrounding “not safe to swim” locations.

Parts of Chicago’s Lakefront Used To Be in DuPage County. Let’s Dig Into the History

A piece of Lincoln Park's history can be found in Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve. (Patty Wetli / WTTW News)

Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve in suburban Darien is roughly 30 miles and a world away from downtown Chicago, but this is where a section of the city’s prized lakefront once rested. 

As COVID-19 Vaccine Rolls Out to Zoo Animals, Brookfield and Lincoln Park Start Delivering Shots

A Linnaeus’s two-toed sloth at Brookfield Zoo receives a COVID-19 vaccine. (Cathy Bazzoni / Chicago Zoological Society-Brookfield Zoo)

Animals at Brookfield Zoo have begun receiving COVID-19 vaccinations, with Lincoln Park Zoo soon to follow, as federal and state officials approved the use of the inoculations.

Got Nature Pix? Enter Them in Cook County Forest Preserves’ Photo Contest

One of the 2020 photo contest winners, taken at Oak Forest Heritage Preserve. (Credit: Sharon Dobben)

Dig those images of flowers, birds and trees out of the iCloud and enter them in the forest preserve district’s annual photo contest. Winning images will be featured in the district’s 2022 calendar. 

‘Lights Out’ Alert Issued for Chicago as Millions of Birds Will Be on the Move This Weekend

More than 30 million migrating birds will pass over Illinois in the coming days. (Dariusz Grosa / Pexels)

With close to 100,000 birds expected to pass over Chicago this weekend, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and its partners have issued a “lights out” alert for the city, encouraging building owners and residents to turn off as many lights as possible between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Volunteers Needed for Beach and Waterfront Cleanups: Here’s How To Pitch In

Volunteers are needed for beach cleanups in September. (Courtesy of Shedd Aquarium)

As beach season winds down in Chicago, the Shedd Aquarium is hosting a series of weekend cleanups to clear the shoreline of a summer’s worth of litter and debris.

The DNA Results Are In: The Skunk Family Tree Has Some New Branches, Scientists Discover

Spotted skunk specimens in the Field Museum's collection. DNA analysis revealed new species. (Patty Wetli / WTTW News)

People who don’t study mammals for a living may be surprised to learn there’s more than one kind of skunk — and scientists affiliated with the Field Museum have uncovered members that had been hiding in plain sight.

Want to See ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’ at Millennium Park? Leave the Toast at Home

Outdoor movie screenings in Millennium Park, 2021. (Courtesy of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events)

The 1975 cult classic has just been added to Millennium Park’s outdoor film series. And while it wouldn’t be a proper “Rocky Horror” screening without audience participation, the city has some dos and don’ts when it comes to your DIY props.

The Dog Days Are Over, With Drier Air and Cooler Temps Forecast This Week


According to the National Weather Service, drier air is moving into the region, bringing with it more comfortable weather.

Rose Spotted in Florida, Phew! Both of Chicago’s Beloved Piping Plover Parents Now Accounted For

A Great Lakes piping plover. (Vince Cavalieri / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Monty arrived in Texas a week ago, and now members of Audubon Florida have confirmed that Rose has been spotted at her winter home. 

Palos Preserves Celebrates Its Dark Side, a Rare Opportunity to Escape Big City’s Bright Lights

Chicago as seen from the International Space Station. The Palos Preserves Urban Night Sky Place is outlined in green. (Courtesy of the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson Space Center)

Palos Preserves has been named an Urban Night Sky Place by the International Dark-Sky Association. The site emits nearly 1,000 times less light than downtown Chicago, with four times as many stars visible in the night sky than can be seen in the city.

Thompson Center as Water Park? Design Competition Finalists Announced

A water park is among the finalists in a competition to repurpose the Thompson Center. (Courtesy of the Chicago Architecture Center and the Chicago Architectural Club)

There’s nothing bashful or traditional about the Thompson Center, so it should come as no surprise that finalists’ designs in a competition to reimagine the building include a proposal for an indoor water park. Here’s a look at each of the designs.

How Do You Know if You Have a Lead Service Water Line? Grab a Magnet

(WTTW News)

As Chicago inches toward the replacement of its lead service lines, officials need help identifying where those pipes are. Here’s a simple way to determine whether you’ve got lead, steel or copper lines running into your home.

4 North Side Neighborhoods Targeted for Mosquito Spraying as Risk of West Nile Virus Now ‘High’

(FotoshopTofs / Pixabay)

Portions of Albany Park, Lincoln Square, Irving Park and North Center are slated for mosquito spraying Wednesday to protect residents against West Nile virus, according to the Chicago Department of Public Health. 

Justice Barrett Denies Request to Halt Obama Center Construction

The latest rendering of the Obama Presidential Center tower. (Courtesy of Obama Foundation)

Protect Our Parks had asked the Supreme Court to issue an emergency injunction against construction of the Obama Presidential Center while litigation is still pending, citing the potential for “irreversible” alterations to Jackson Park.

Forgotten Artist Gets His Moment in the Sun With Garfield Park’s ‘Still Life in Real Life’ Exhibit

"Still Life in Real Life," an exhibit at Garfield Park Conservatory, through Oct. 17, 2021. (Patty Wetli / WTTW News)

Charles Ethan Porter, the only late-19th century Black painter of still lifes and landscapes, translated scenes from nature onto canvas. Now the Garfield Park Conservatory has reversed the process, using plants in place of paints, to transform its Artist’s Garden into a living interpretation of Porter’s work.

Jupiter’s Star Turn: The Gas Giant Is at Its Biggest and Brightest Right Now

This view of Jupiter was captured by NASA’s Juno spacecraft on Feb. 12, 2019, as the spacecraft performed its 17th science pass of Jupiter. (Courtesy of NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI / MSSS)

Jupiter and Earth are currently about as close as they get to each other. The outer planet is visible from sunset to sunrise and is among the brightest objects in the sky.

Beware of Scammers Demanding Bitcoin Payment for Utilities, Attorney General Warns

(David McBee / Pexels)

Thieves claiming to be affiliated with ComEd are contacting Illinois residents and threatening to shut off their electricity unless a purportedly “past-due” bill is paid immediately via Bitcoin, according to a warning from Attorney General Kwame Raoul.