The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is the oldest museum in Chicago, having just recently celebrated its 160th year in January. Situated in Lincoln Park, in an angular building designed by Ralph Johnson, and erected in 1999, it’s a treasure that’s too often overlooked. It presents great opportunities for children and adults to learn about nature and conservation, from the bogs, marshes, savannas, prairies and fens just outside the city, to the plant and animal life found within city limits. It’s a great place to learn and explore, and offers a year-round butterfly haven and rooftop walkway that are great for a touch of nature even in the midst of winter.
And even though the anniversary celebrations are over, there’s been a lot of action at the Notebaert of late, and more still to come. Patsy, the museum’s curmudgeonly alligator snapping turtle, recently got a brand new habitat with more room to roam. There are a lot of critters currently residing at the Notebaert, including quite a few Blanding’s turtles, a species once quite prolific in Illinois that is now endangered. In speaking with museum staff, I found out just how huge a focus it is. Their labs, some of which you can see, are home to quite a few threatened or endangered species that will be studied, observed and released back into the wild if possible, or given comfy homes and the opportunity to meet the city otherwise.
Two beautiful photography exhibits also highlight greater environmental issues. Surface Tension, a joint project featuring the work of photographers Ted Glasoe and Nelson Armour, and explores the many moods of our own Lake Michigan, as well as the dangers facing it, like waste overflow and pollution from oil companies. Upstairs, visitors can explore the vast world of migratory birds in Chicago with Art Fox’s Broken Journey, a beautiful if macabre look at the many exotic birds that pass through our city on their journeys all over the world who didn’t make it, hoping to “provoke the viewer to be drawn in through beauty and led toward deeper meanings.”
There’s plenty to do any time you come though, with great exhibits like the Extreme Green House, Wilderness Walk and RiverWorks, a huge water table area that teaches about locks, dams, irrigation and other water management techniques around for kids to see and touch, and a beautiful 2,700 foot greenhouse, the Judy Istock Butterfly haven, which is open year round and features more than 1,000 butterflies to make you feel a little less like you’re in winter’s doldrums. If the weather’s decent, you can also take to the third floor and head out on the Micole Birdwalk, full of binoculars to get a closer look at our feathered friends (and offering some lovely cityscape views) or hit the nature trails surrounding the museum.
If it’s been a while, you’ve never been, or you’re a member, there’s definitely something for everyone. Upcoming exhibits and events for the museum include I Heart Birds, a Valentine’s Day dance for kids and families being held Friday, February 17, that will feature exotic birds like the blue-headed macaw and black palm cockatoo with plenty of activities and even dinner. Adults, meanwhile, can enjoy free admission, craft beers and refreshments while learning more about the issues facing Lake Michigan with the Lake Michigan’s Beauty and Fragility panel discussion on February 23. Registration is required for the event, which will feature experts from the Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum, Alliance for the Great Lakes as well as the Notebaert Museum itself as they discuss their research and ways for you to get involved. And finally, in news on upcoming exhibits, we’ve learned that the next will be titled “Our House: Bringing Climate Change Home” and are excited to see how that translates. For more information on the Notebaert, and to register or buy tickets for events, click here.