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The Cook County Forest Preserves have offered respite during the pandemic. (Forest Preserve District of Cook County / Facebook)

Throughout the pandemic, nature has proved its worth as an outlet and resource, benefiting people’s physical, emotional and mental well-being. Now the question is, will people return the favor?

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Parks and preserves are tightening restrictions due to a surge in COVID-19 cases. In the spring, even picnic tables were "closed." (Raed Mansour / Flickr)

With tighter mitigations in place due to a surge in COVID-19 cases, the Chicago Park District and surrounding forest preserve districts have suspended programs indefinitely.

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Celebrate National Public Lands Day on Sept. 26 by taking part in activities at select Cook County Forest Preserves. (Forest Preserve District of Cook County / Facebook)

Visitors can choose from a slew of free activities at more than a dozen sites Saturday. Among the options, you can take a nature walk, learn the basics of camping, build a toy boat, meet some critters or join a scavenger hunt.

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Artist Santiago X discusses his work Serpent Mound, a group of effigy mounds in Schiller Woods reminiscent of the earthwork built by Indigenous people, on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. (Evan Garcia / WTTW News)

Indigenous artist Santiago X showcased Serpent Mound, a group of effigy mounds in a Cook County forest preserve, as part of the county’s Racial Equity Week on Tuesday.

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(StockSnap / Pixabay)

Make the most of the three-day weekend by exploring the Chicago region’s abundant hiking and biking trails.  

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Grilling will be allowed again at Forest Preserves, as of July 9. (Pixabay)

The Forest Preserves of Cook County announced it will reopen Swallow Cliff Stairs, nature centers and bathrooms, plus allow grilling and lift restrictions on parking lots at popular sites — but not until after the Fourth of July.

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Jeff Skrentny (WTTW News)

More than 200 species of birds have been identified at this small forest preserve, along with hundreds of other living things. We meet up with Jeff Skrentny and several dozen volunteers for a morning of pre-pandemic restoration work.

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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.

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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.

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Visitors have been ignoring forest preserve rules, leading officials to place limits on access. (Raed Mansour / Flickr)

Too many visitors are flocking to the most popular forest preserves and ignoring social distancing rules, prompting weekend parking lot closures through the end of May, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced Friday.

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Wildflowers in Busse Woods. (Sajith T S / Flickr)

Most trails remain open in Cook County’s forest preserves, offering people a respite from home confinement during the COVID-19 pandemic, but that could change if people congregate like they did along Chicago’s lakefront. 

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Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, Japan (Daniel Peckham / Flickr)

From the Amazon to Jiuzhaigou Valley, the world’s forests are racking up hashtags. But there’s no need to travel out of Cook County in search of photogenic flora.

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A Chicago Animal Care and Control inspector, right, and a warden from Cook County Animal Control fan out around the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Lincoln Park to look for a possible coyote den, Thursday morning, Jan. 9, 2020. (Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Chicago Sun-Times via AP)

Authorities on the hunt for coyotes in downtown Chicago after two reported attacks, including one where passersby said they had to pull a wild canine off of a 6-year-old boy who was bitten in the head, captured one animal Thursday night on the city’s North Side.

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Sometimes the best thing for a forest or prairie is to burn it. We spend a day with a Cook County burn crew.  

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A screen shot from a video filmed at a Cook County forest preserve. “This is what I’m wearing,” says the woman at the center of the video, showing a Puerto Rican flag shirt. (Mia Irizarry / Facebook)

More fallout in the wake of a viral video that has resulted in hate crime charges and a police officer’s resignation.

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A screen shot from a video filmed at a Cook County forest preserve. “This is what I’m wearing,” says the woman at the center of the video, showing a Puerto Rican flag shirt. (Mia Irizarry / Facebook)

A video shot in a Cook County forest preserve has caught fire on social media and is prompting blowback from county officials on both sides of the aisle.