City's riverfront parks are hidden gems

Chicago is famous for its 20-mile stretch of parks along Lake Michigan.

Less well known are the parks along the Chicago River, from tiny pockets of woods between Irving Park Road and Montrose Avenue, to the big stretch from Lawrence Avenue to Peterson Avenue that includes Ronan Park, River Park and Legion Park.

Alexis Abram, 24, who just moved to Albany Park from Rogers Park, was visiting the park recently along with her companion Tuan Nguyen, 27, and their two dogs Roxanne and Franklin.

Despite its proximity, Abram says the park, which includes an enclosed dog park, came as a surprise.

"It's absolutely beautiful," Abram says. "I appreciate (that) you can avoid all the street congestion."

On park bench in Peterson Park, Marison Flores,19, says she makes the park a habit.

"We come to the park basically every day," she says.

This long, narrow band of parks, beginning with Ronan Park, provides walkers and bikers 94 acres of nearly uninterrupted green space.

A young night heron ruffles his feathers on the dam at River Park. / Photo by Amy Crider

Underpasses, called the Riverfront Trail, were built between 2001 and 2006. They wind under Foster Avenue, Bryn Mawr Avenue, and Peterson Avenue along the North Shore Channel and allow visitors to walk from Argyle Street to Peterson Avenue without crossing a street.

The parks, bordered by Kedzie and Virginia Avenues, are enjoyed by West Ridge, Lincoln Square, North Park, and Albany Park residents.

Just north of Argyle Street in River Park is a special spot for birdwatchers.

Here there is a small dam and waterfall where the North Channel flows into the North Branch of the Chicago River.

The churning water attracts fish-eating birds, and on a summer night one might see a pair of night herons, two juvenile night herons and a pair of great blue herons -all at once - watching for the water to churn up dinner.

Other birds along the river include yellow warblers, migrating Northern flickers, Cooper's hawks, and kingfishers with their sharp cries.

The three parks have play structures, a historic athletic house, and an outdoor pool.

Because of their narrow configuration, the parks don't register as large on a map, but they are a two-mile long oasis from the hectic streets on a hot summer day.

Correction: A photo caption in an earlier version misidentified the bird as an American bittern. The bird is a young night heron.