Where Simonds Drive, Montrose Avenue, and Marine Harbor Drive meet, so did participants on August 15th for Bikes, Birds, and Butterflies, a bike ride that explored immersive natural areas and plants thriving in Chicago’s Uptown community. Most of the participants rolled up on their own bikes, while the rest took advantage of loaner bikes provided by Divvy.
As the group circled up, ICA Program Coordinator Samantha Sainsbury introduced the ride as part of two ongoing initiatives: Nourish (comm)Unity, a collaborative events series organized by Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network (CSLN), and the Uptown Garden Walk, which encourages residents and visitors to explore the diverse identity of Uptown through its local gardens. These initiatives naturally cross-pollinated in Bikes, Birds, and Butterflies, as key Garden Walk organizers Susan Ask, Matt Cardoni, and Melanie Eckner are active CSLN members.
The meeting point is also the closest intersection to the Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary. After introductions, the group of about 20 riders walked their bikes a short way down Marine Harbor Drive only to prop them up on fences, poles, and kickstands. The Sanctuary itself, a vibrant stretch of shrubs and trees known as the “Magic Hedge,” is off-limits to bikes and pets in an effort to protect birds that migrate through the space. Susan led the group through a tour of the Sanctuary, pointing out the numerous native plant and insect species thrive there.
On the other side of the Magic Hedge, the foliage opened to a panoramic view of the North Side skyline, Lake Michigan, and Montrose Beach. To the west the beach was populated with beach-goers, volleyball nets, and vendor stands. To the east, the beach was quieter, barricaded off from the bustle. Susan explained that this area is the mating ground for the now-famous pair of Great Lakes Piping Plovers, the first to reproduce in Chicago since 1955.
Back on the other side of the Sanctuary, participants remounted and rode along the Lakefront Trail to Buena Peace Garden, where they crossed under Lake Shore Drive and continued along Uptown’s commercial and residential streets to reach Sunnyside Mall.
There they were met by Ian Whiting, the Mall’s enthusiastic volunteer steward, handing out greetings and Sunnyside Mall swag. He explained that while the Mall was closed off in 1967 as part of the Model Cities Program under President Johnson, most of its current features have come from local groups taking initiative in recent years. These include a monarch butterfly garden planted by Courtenay Elementary students, a vegetable garden managed by New Acropolis, and a free library installed by Chicago Friends School.
Participants rode east across Uptown to visit the community garden at Clarendon Park, which was built in a day by 44 volunteers. Gardeners Brittany Alsot and Margo McFarland described the features of the garden, including a new prairie grass area and extensive native plants that serve as stepping stones for wildlife, including birds and butterflies. With its accessible design, the garden is a favorite of elderly gardeners and gardeners who use wheelchairs.
Finally, the group rode north to finish at Buttercup Park. Samantha led a closing reflection, asking what stood out from the tour. One participant remarked that each of the places visited is made possible by volunteers. Another noted that these places are hidden away, and that they never knew about the community garden at Clarendon Park despite being a frequent visitor to the area. When asked to reflect on the theme of nourishment, the group identified how public spaces attract both wildlife—through pollen, nectar, and insects—and people—through activities such as walking, biking, and sports.
Afterwards, many participants walked up the street to enjoy Uptown’s popular Argyle Night Market, which nourishes community members on Thursday evening in July and August through food, community, and cultural activities."
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