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Lincoln Square, North Center, Irving Park

Families Can Explore Horner Park While Hearing A Story About Its Wildlife Through Chicago Children’s Theatre’s Podcast Series

The podcasts are designed to get families exploring their neighborhoods. The latest episode takes people on a tour of Horner Park.

Jessica Ridenour and Shawn Pfautsch wrote "The Night Heron." Right: A photo of a black-crowned night Heron.
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IRVING PARK — A new podcast episode allows families to explore Horner Park while hearing about the area’s wildlife.

Shawn Pfautsch and Jessica Ridenour — a married couple who are a part of Chicago’s theater scene — created the story so people could have fun and learn while touring the park. The audio tour, “The Night Heron,” follows the story’s namesake bird as it investigates the mystery of a strange bird spotted in the park.

The audio story is part of the Chicago Children’s Theatre’s Walkie Talkies podcast series, created to get families to explore the neighborhoods in creative ways.

“Welcome to Horner Park,” the podcast’s description reads. “The crickets were pretty loud last night. Too loud. They say it’s because the grasshoppers were spooked by a stranger in town. Who is this strange new bird and who invited him to Horner Park? The Grackle? The Skunk? Sounds like a case for … the Night Heron.”

To participate, people need to download the podcast, go to the top of the big hill in Horner Park and then press play. The story will guide them around the park.

The podcast is available on iTunes, Spotify and through other providers.

Credit: Provided.
Map of the path to walk in Horner Park while listening to “The Night Heron.”

“The Night Heron character will tell you where to go next, and as you walk you’ll meet other characters. It’s kind of like you’re on the set of a movie or a play,” Pfautsch said.

The couple walked around Horner Park in October for inspiration for the story. They chose permanent landmarks, native plants and animals they saw to include in the story, Ridenour said.

For example, there are mallard ducks in the audio story because the couple noticed ducks were in the nearby river.

“I love the idea that you’d be listening to this and the mallard character enters the story at the same time you see an actual mallard duck on the river,” Ridenour said.

The Chicago Children’s Theatre commissioned the first Walkie Talkies podcast series last fall with narrative tours of South Shore, Little Village and the North Pond Nature Sanctuary in Lincoln Park. The audio stories are created by local theater artists. 

Live theaters were shut down for the majority of the pandemic, and the podcast series was a way to keep Chicago theater artists busy and paid.

“While we couldn’t perform live, the goal was to give families an activity to do together, outside, despite quarantine,” said Jay Kelly, Chicago Children’s Theatre spokesperson.

This year, the Park District decided to partially fund another three episodes through its Night Out in the Parks program, Kelly said.

About 14 acres of Horner Park’s 55 acreage have undergone an extensive ecosystem restoration since 2014. It’s cost about $5.6 million.

Part of that work included restoring the park’s oak savanna habitat, removing invasive species and performing landscaping improvements to restore the area’s natural features, improving the riverbank and adding a walking trail along the shoreline.

The completion of the Horner Park restoration project is one of the reasons the park was chosen to be the first site of this year’s podcast series, Kelly said.

To learn more about the Walkie Talkie podcast series, click here.

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