I love Northerly Island.

Northerly Island is actually a peninsula, created as part of the Burnham Plan of Chicago. You can reach it by following the road past the sculpture garden outside of Adler Planetarium. It was once the site of Meigs Field, but the second Mayor Daley controversially sent bulldozers to the runways of that small airport in 2003. Some claim it was a horrible abuse of power. Others claim it was a good security move. Aviation aficionados miss having a lakefront airport; 99 Percenters decry having a whole peninsula dedicated for wealthy executives to fly their private planes to work. In any case, there is no airport there now.


The foaming at the mouth that occurs when some Chicagoans discuss Meigs Field evokes this promotional image for the film “Cujo.”

Instead, there is a gorgeous expanse of restored prairie and bird habitat, along with a field house where you can learn about nature, and an outpost of Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation focusing on helping migrating birds who strike the windows of downtown skyscrapers. The Charter One Pavilion, a concert venue now slated for expansion, will host bands like Phish and Ben Folds Five this summer.


A view from the “island” courtesy of the Chicago Park District.

In the summer, 12th Street Beach is one of the less crowded beaches in the city because of its secluded location. There is open water swimming here, rather than the limited-depth swimming at other beaches. You can also enjoy public restrooms that are a bit cleaner than at some other beaches and skip long lines at the concession stand. There is typically only one  lifeguard, so be aware of your little swimmers. Amusingly, there is no 12th Street here (it’s now called Roosevelt Road).

In spring and fall, this is an excellent place to birdwatch. In particular, many Purple Martins nest here, and you may see some warblers passing through who are only in the Chicago area for a few weeks or even days per year.

In the winter, Northerly Island has hosted dog sled demonstrations and the Polar Adventure Days.  You can rent snowshoes or cross country skis in snowy weather, as well.

There is also talk of building an artificial reef off the shore here, providing habitat for struggling Lake Michigan fish. This is just one of many ecology-minded projects under discussion for Northerly Island, keeping true to Burnham’s motto, “Make no small plans.” I, for one, am eager to see what actually comes to fruition.


I love sea shanties.

It’s not like I have an iPod full of them, but really, I do. I love sea shanties. They’re great music for doing housework or keeping your kid entertained on a long-ish car trip. They have very old roots but are still around today, and Chicago has some of its very own.

What is a sea shanty, or sea chanty? Basically, it is a song that is a type of folk music–a nautical type. The name comes from the French verb for “to sing,” chanter. Back when Chicago was the busiest port in the world, men working on Lake Michigan’s many boats and ships sang these songs to help pass the time and economize labor. Unlike many other types of work song, sea shanties draw from a rich mosaic of cultural influences, including American marches, European folk dance, and the music of African-American slaves.

Chicago’s lakefront is now home to more parks than shipping vessels, so who is keeping this musical tradition alive, and how? For starters, you can take the Sea Music And Shanty class at the Old Town School of Folk Music. You can also check out the guy who teaches the class, Tom Kastle, in concert sometimes, or buy one of his CDs.


Ahoy! It’s Tom Kastle in a photo from his web site.

You can also hear them performed, sometimes by musicians in period costume, at the Chicago Maritime Festival. If you still haven’t had enough Great Lakes nautical jams, join the yahoo group for Chicago sea shanties to find out whenever there are performances or sing-alongs in the Chicago area.

Please enjoy this video of The Hard Tackers Shanty Team, a fine group of singers from another Great Lakes state, singing at the 2012 Chicago Maritime Festival.