Stories by patty wetli

‘Rusty Colored’ Discharge from US Steel Shuts Down Beaches at Indiana Dunes National Park

Indiana Dunes National Park, with various industrial plants in the background, in 2019. (Patty Wetli / WTTW News)

Officials from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management are investigating a “rusty colored liquid” discharged from the U.S. Steel plant in Portage, spotted Sunday evening in the Burns Waterway.

Saturday Is National Public Lands Day. Here’s How To Celebrate

Volunteers can help improve Monty and Rose's habitat at Montrose Beach Dunes on National Public Lands Day, Sept. 25, 2021. (Patty Wetli / WTTW News)

It is the largest single-day volunteer effort in support of environmental stewardship. Here’s how to get involved in National Public Lands Day at Chicago area parks and preserves.

Rodents of Unusual Size Are Real, and They’ve Just Landed in Chicago

One of the three capybara, just arrived at the Brookfield Zoo. (Jim Schulz / CZS-Brookfield Zoo)

Capybaras, native to Central and South America, are the largest members of the rodent family, tipping the scales at 130 pounds. Three of them have just arrived at the Brookfield Zoo.

Altgeld Gardens, Ramova Theatre, Elijah Muhammad House on Track for National Historic Register Listing

Altgeld Gardens (Eric Allix Rogers)

Proposals to list the properties on the National Register of Historic Places cleared a key committee hearing Wednesday and will come before the Commission on Chicago Landmarks in October. 

Dangerous 18-Foot Waves, High Winds To Batter Chicago Lakefront

A man rides a bike along a wave-battered lakefront in Chicago on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021. (WTTW News)

The National Weather Service is warning people to steer clear of parks, trails, piers and breakwaters Wednesday and Thursday, with waves as high as 18 feet and wind gusts up to 45 miles per hour in the forecast.

An Astronomical Twofer This Week: Harvest Moon and Fall Equinox

A full moon. (Lim Yaw Keong / Pixabay)

Two harbingers of autumn — the harvest moon and fall equinox — are occurring within days of each other this week, which will make for some interesting sunsets and moon rises. And keep an eye out for “Chicagohenge.”

Swim Season Is Over. Officials Warn Chicagoans Not To Trifle With Lake Michigan

A Chicago beach sign warns people against swimming or diving in Lake Michigan. (WTTW News)

Safety officials are reminding Chicagoans that even if it still feels like summer, the lakefront’s beaches are now closed for the season to swimming, with lifeguards no longer present along the shoreline. So far in 2021, 38 people have drowned in Lake Michigan.

Open House Chicago Set To Make In-Person Comeback. Get a Sneak Peek at New Sites

Penthouse at Hyde Park. (Chicago Architecture Center / Anna Munzesheimer)

When it returns next month, the free architecture festival will once again offer in-person, behind-the-scenes access to buildings normally off-limits to the public. Here’s an early look at some of the new sites taking part in the 2021 event.

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.