Forest Preserves of Cook County Celebrate Dan Ryan Woods Investments

New amenities include nature play area, exercise stairs

Dan Ryan Woods has been a popular location for family gatherings and a place to connect to nature on the South Side of Chicago for generations. This morning, the Forest Preserves of Cook County and partners celebrated investments of more than $3.5 million in new amenities at the site since 2013.

Cook County Board and Forest Preserves of Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle, joined by Senator Bill Cunningham, Representatives Kelly Burke and Fran Hurley, Commissioners John P. Daley and Stanley Moore, and officials from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Forest Preserve Foundation and the Forest Preserves of Cook County, spoke and toured Dan Ryan Woods during the ceremony.

“There is a lot of history here. For more than 100 years, Dan Ryan Woods has been a forest preserve. Our administration has worked with many partners on a Master Plan to reimagine Dan Ryan Woods and write a new chapter,” President Preckwinkle said. “These great new amenities here in Dan Ryan Woods reflect our commitment to ensuring that everyone across the county has the opportunity to enjoy and benefit from the nearly 70,000 acres of the Forest Preserves and all they offer.”

Since 2013, Dan Ryan Woods, a signature Gateway Site for the Forest Preserves of Cook County, has renovated and reopened the historic Dan Ryan Pavilion to the public as a venue for indoor special events; transformed a former maintenance building into the new Dan Ryan Visitors Center where local residents can purchase picnic permits; repaired limestone aqueducts south of 87st Street built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s; and added walking paths and new signs to tell the history of this special place and to help visitors more easily find their way around.

The most recent additions are popular new exercise stairs near the sledding hill and a multi-faceted nature play area, where children of all ages can make thunder or make music, climb the netting, lounge in a leaning hammock, or look out over the landscape in the Treehouse. Young people in the Forest Preserves’ Youth Outdoor Ambassadors program have developed new nature play programming for kids, based in adventure, creativity, and citizen science, for the site, as well.

The Gateway Master Plan identifies special sites at Forest Preserves locations throughout the county to encourage people to take advantage of these natural open spaces. The Forest Preserves has targeted Gateway sites for enhancements to help convey a sense of welcome, interest, safety and beauty. Opportunities to create a “sense of place” include increasing natural area restoration, integrating art and sculptures, and developing a policy on interpretation that communicates natural and cultural assets within the Forest Preserves.

“Dan Ryan Woods is a 257-acre preserve that includes open woodlands and native grasses and wildflowers, a great place to get away into nature right here on the South Side. Our mission at the Forest Preserves also includes offering opportunities for recreation in our natural spaces. Dan Ryan Woods is one of our most popular preserves—every year we issue more than 500 permits for picnics and other special events here. These investments bring even more to the site for visitors,” Forest Preserves General Superintendent Arnold Randall said.

Randall also thanked the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and its Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development program for providing major funding for the work, and the Forest Preserve Foundation and the National Recreation Foundation for their generous support of the construction of the site and the nature play programming.

On Friday, August 2, the Forest Preserves will be hosting the Dan Ryan Woods VIP Play event, a local celebration with staff on hand, refreshments and fun nature activities. The event is free to attend, and will be hosted from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

For more information on the Gateway Master Plan, visit For more information on the Forest Preserves, visit

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