DUNNING — A Far Northwest Side nature oasis is now more accessible, thanks to new paths recently completed as part of an ongoing revitalization project for the land.
Trails on much of the The Dunning-Read Conservation Area, 23 acres of wetlands and woodlands along the city’s western border, have been restored, cleared and mulched by area volunteers and the Chicago Park District, which took over ownership of the area last year.
The conservation area is on the grounds of the former Chicago-Read Mental Health Center, 4200 N. Oak Park Ave., and was once slated for development. Neighbors fought to keep it a nature area. It was managed by local organizations and maintained exclusively by volunteers.
The new paths and updated parking lot were unveiled at a recent ribbon-cutting, which was attended by volunteers from the area’s advisory council, neighbors and local leaders who have led the charge to restore the land for years.
The new trails, which can be accessed from the path leading from the center’s parking lot on the west side of Oak Park Avenue, have new mulched surfaces, more designation with wooden borders and more signs.
Ald. Nick Sposato (38th), whose ward includes the conservation site, said he was pleased to see the improved paths that can increase use of the area.
“It’s a nice addition for the community and a way to be in nature and get out,” Sposato said.
Volunteers and park district officials built the woodchip walkway earlier this year, removing weeds and non-native brush and trees with herbicide on stumps and roots, collecting and planting native plants, Chicago Park District spokesperson Irene Tostado said in a statement.
The new path connects concrete seating areas and bridges so it can be used for walking, Tostado said. New signs, an information kiosk and an updated shelter were also added.
“The district also aims to better control some of the invasive species, including the phragmites and the cattails, with the long term goal of having a more diverse native habitat,” Tostado said.
The woodchip trail opened in early April and was completed a few weeks ago, said Jeff Daube, secretary and volunteer with conservation area’s advisory council.
As the area gets more accessible and maintained, more restoration efforts and upgrades improvements are coming, he said.
Exterior signs to distinguish the spot as a Park District-managed site are in production now, and more aesthetic fences are being considered for the Irving Park Road portion of the area, Daube said.
The city may also buy a nearby parking lot to welcome more visitors, and the district is looking at installing a nature play space on site, he said.
The advisory council has applied for a Neighborhood Access Program grant for art programs to introduce students at nearby Taft Middle School to the “inspiring resource across the street from them,” he said.
“The community continues to contribute to the restoration of the site, with a local Eagle Scout candidate and friends performing over 12 hours of volunteer work removing buckthorn, liberating an old oak tree, and refurbishing the benches around the council rings,” Daube said.
The recent improvements to the conservation area were partially funded by Park District funding and $50,000 in state dollars.
Volunteers with the advisory council encourage residents to get involved with restoring the wetlands. Volunteer days are 9 a.m.-noon every third Saturday of the month. More information on volunteering and updates can be found on the group’s Facebook page or website.
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