Stories by Patty Wetli

Forest Preserves in Phase 3: What’s Open, What’s Not

The treetop adventure course at Bemis Woods boasts 2,837 feet of zip line. (Courtesy of Go Ape)

You can camp, golf and — starting next weekend — even go zip lining, but plenty of closures and restrictions remain in effect. Here’s a look at what you can and can’t do in the preserves, and when.

Want to Create Jobs and Fund Social Services on the South and West Sides? Buy Flowers

Southside Blooms grows it own flowers, on farms in Englewood, West Woodlawn and West Garfield Park. (Southside Blooms / Facebook)

These days, buying flowers might seem like the very definition of a nonessential luxury purchase. But dozens of struggling nonprofits are in fact relying on flower sales to fund the vital social services they provide.

What You Need to Know About Chicago Parks in Phase 3 of City’s Reopening

Playgrounds remain closed, awaiting public health guidance. (Patty Wetli / WTTW News)

Chicago parks may be “reopening” next week — though technically the outdoors was never “closed,” except along the lakefront — but access to facilities and equipment will remain limited.

Chicagoans Aren’t Waiting on Lightfoot to Begin Cleanup, Rebuilding

Teens organized cleanups on the West Side. (Facebook)

Neighbors are taking care of each other, grabbing brooms, raising money and distributing food. “I’m cleaning up my community on behalf of my people,” said one volunteer.

Tuesday’s Heat Was One for the Record Books

Temperatures hit 94 degrees, a record for June 2. (Pixabay)

The mercury soared to 94 degrees on June 2, topping the previous record of 92 degrees set for the date back in 1944.

#BlackBirdersWeek Sends the Message That Nature Is for Everyone

Biologist Amber Wendler is among those taking part in #BlackBirdersWeek. (@amberwendler / Twitter)

The social media campaign running through Friday was founded by 30 African American scientists, birders and nature lovers as a response to the racism encountered by birder Christian Cooper in New York’s Central Park.

Pritzker Calls Up 250 More Guardsmen to Assist Local Law Enforcement

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announces a shelter-in-place rule to combat the spread of the Covid-19 virus, during a news conference Friday, March 20, 2020, in Chicago. (AP Photo / Charles Rex Arbogast)

A “surge of destructive action” across Illinois prompted Gov. J.B. Pritzker to issue a disaster proclamation Monday for nine counties and deploy additional state police and National Guard members. 

Weekend of Protests, Social Gatherings May Cause Coronavirus Spike, Chicago’s Top Doc Says

Protesters wear masks in Chicago on Saturday, May 30, 2020, but health officials worry that large gatherings could lead to a spike in the number of COVID-19 infections. (Hugo Balta / WTTW News)

Officials are worried Chicago may see a spike in COVID-19 cases after a weekend of not just protests but a general abandoning of public health guidelines. 

‘Livelihoods Completely Devastated.’ City Vows to Help Businesses Rebuild After Looting

Crews start boarding up the 3 Smokin Sisters Tobacco Shop on 71st Street in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood. Shop owners emptied the store of inventory following looting on Sunday, May 31, 2020. (@paschutz / Twitter)

A weekend of protests, looting and violence rocked many of Chicago’s commercial districts, which were already suffering due to the coronavirus pandemic that temporarily closed many businesses and kept residents at home.

Lightfoot: ‘We Did Not Stand By and Let the South and West Sides Burn’

Protesters and police officers wearing riot girl have a standoff near Daley Plaza on Saturday, May 30, 2020. (Evan Garcia / WTTW News)

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Police Superintendent David Brown disputed claims that resources were used to protect downtown at the expense of Chicago’s neighborhoods during weekend protests and rioting. The opposite occurred, they said.

New Season of ‘Somebody Feed Phil’ Shows the Chicago Restaurant Scene We All Want Back

Phil Rosenthal, left, digs into peach cobbler and ice cream during the Chicago episode of "Somebody Feed Phil." (Courtesy of Shawn Michelle's Ice Cream)

Chicago’s restaurant scene has been hit hard during the coronavirus pandemic. A new episode of the Netflix series “Somebody Feed Phil,” which filmed in the city in 2019, serves as a reminder of why these businesses are worth saving.

Take a Virtual Hike Through Chicago’s Rare Original Prairie Remnant

The James Woodworth Prairie Preserve is a rare remnant of original Illinois prairie. (Frank Mayfield / Flickr)

The Illinois Native Plant Society is hosting a Facebook Live virtual hike through James Woodworth Prairie Preserve on Saturday.

Hiking Guide Gives New Meaning to ‘Rails to Trails’

"Chicago Transit Hikes" showcases trails accessible via CTA, Metro or the South Shore Line. (Credits: Patty Wetli / WTTW News; Belt Publishing; Lindsay Welbers)

A new guidebook showcases the region’s best hiking trails accessible via the CTA, Metra or the South Shore Line. Because someday, we’ll ride trains again.

State Park Campgrounds Open Friday: Here’s What to Expect

Campgrounds at Illinois state parks are reopened, with new guidelines in place. (Kelle Cruz / Flickr)

First of all, take note that “reopened” doesn’t mean “back to normal.” Guidelines, including limiting campsites and campfires to registered occupants, are in place.

SpaceX Set to Launch First Astronauts. Here’s How to Watch

NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley, left, and Robert Behnken, during a launch rehearsal. (NASA HQ Photo / Flickr)

It’s a big day for NASA and Elon Musk’s SpaceX as they send humans into space Wednesday, the first crewed launch from American soil since 2011 and the first by a private firm.

Are Appeals Court Judges Kicking the Can on Obama Center Lawsuit?

A lawsuit to block construction of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park continues to wind its way through the courts. (Courtesy of The Obama Foundation)

After hearing oral arguments last week, appeals court judges are questioning whether a lawsuit against the construction of the Obama Presidential Center has any standing in federal court.

Southeast Side Coalition Unveils ‘Good Neighbor’ Blueprint for Developers

A rendering of failed development plan for the South Works site. Neighbors want a say in what comes next. (Courtesy of Barcelona Housing Systems)

Southeast Side residents have created guidelines for the types of development they want to see in their neighborhoods, outlining their priorities in a blueprint for developers. 

Blues, Gospel & House Music Fests Heading Online, City Announces

Chicago is taking some of its popular music fests online. (Courtesy Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events)

The Millennium Park at Home series will deliver concerts online via YouTube and Facebook, kicking off Memorial Day weekend with a virtual version of the House Music Festival.

Go Figure, But a ‘Convert Your Lawn to Prairie’ Webinar is the Hottest Ticket in Town

Do these look like weeds? Native plants can create a beautiful landscape that's more eco-friendly than grass. (Ron Frazier / Flickr)

People have been spending a lot of time in their yards, and it seems that’s led to plenty of folks jumping on the native plant bandwagon, if a sold-out series of webinars is any indication.

Chicago’s Park System Among Nation’s Best, New Ranking Says

The Crown Fountain in Millennium Park is the type of amenity that earned Chicago’s parks top ParkScore marks. (R Boed / Flickr)

In an annual ranking by The Trust for Public Land, Chicago’s park system came in 10th out of the nation’s 100 largest cities, earning high marks for accessibility and amenities.

It’s World Bee Day: Let’s Hear It For Our Native Bees

The bumble bee is one of hundreds of species of bees native to Illinois. (Judy Gallagher / Flickr)

The United Nations created World Bee Day to raise awareness of these pollinators and the threats they face. The honey bee may get all the glory, but there are 400-500 species of bees native to Illinois. 

General Iron Closed While Explosion Investigated, Residents Want More

Protestors at General Iron's Lincoln Park metal shredding operation in 2018. (Alex Ruppenthal / WTTW News)

Chicago officials have ordered General Iron to cease operations while Monday’s explosion is investigated, but residents, who have been fighting for a shutdown of the facility, say the action doesn’t go far enough.

This Month is the Wettest May in Chicago History. Could More Records Fall?

Record rainfall in May has caused the Chicago River to rise and has taxed the region’s storm sewers. (WTTW News)

For the third year in a row, Chicago has set a new record for the most precipitation in May. But as rainy as it’s been, it will take an epic deluge to rival the city’s wettest month of all time.

City Presents Plan for Final Coal Plant Demolition, Water Cannons Included

The partly demolished site of the former Crawford Power Generating Station, which was active from 1925 to 2012. (WTTW News)

The city says what’s left of the Crawford Coal Plant needs to be demolished out of safety concerns. But this time, officials promise ample water will be on site to guard against a repeat of April’s botched implosion.

‘Stay Home’: That’s the Message from Forest Preserves for Memorial Day Weekend

Too many visitors are flocking to the most popular forest preserves and ignoring social distancing rules. (Raed Mansour / Flickr)

Memorial Day is traditionally one of the busiest weekends in the Forest Preserves, but because of COVID-19, people are being encouraged to hold cookouts, picnics and other holiday activities at home this year.