Thank you to all of our residents and staff who donated to the Shop ‘N Drop Food Drive, in partnership with SaLT: Service and Learning Together and the Highland Park/Highwood Rotary Club!

Pre-packaged food donations were collected to provide groceries to Highland Park and Highwood families facing food insecurities from Monday, August 14 to Sunday, September 10. The Park District collected over 1,000 items to help feed 75 families in need.  Roughly 30 volunteers including 12 Park District employees volunteered on Friday, September 15 to sort and stuff grocery bags and then deliver them to local families in need. 

The food drive and service event have contributed to:

In a thank you email from SaLT organizers, “These numbers are not just statistics; they represent the lives we’ve touched, the families we’ve supported, and the countless hours of service provided by our incredible team of Shop ‘N Drop Superheroes. None of this would have been possible without your collaboration and support.”

A HUGE thank you again to all those who donated and volunteered for our food drive!

For many gardeners, the first signs of fall in the garden bring a mix of emotions—a look forward to the marvelous array of colors and textures that will soon be on full display, and the signal that another gardening season is coming to a close. If you look closely at the goldenrods in the next few weeks you will see an insect bonanza—all shapes and sizes coming together to feast on the last flowers of the season with their abundant pollen and nectar. Asters serve a similar purpose, drawing late season butterflies and many bee species to buzz pollinate their way around the disc florets at the center of each flower. It’s really fun to watch!

This is a perfect time to begin collecting seeds from Baptisia, Penstemon, Echinacea, Eurybia and others that can be cleaned, stored, and stratified (a pre-treatment using cold moist conditions) to be ready for germinating late winter and early spring, or sowing late fall—there will be many more to gather before the heavy rain and winds of fall do their thing. It is also the perfect time to stand back and assess your garden for form, function and to make some choices on any adjustments needed now or for the coming year.

Seeds and bracts of Eurybia macrophylla (big-leaved aster). Photo by Liz Vogel.

First up, we must decide what to do with the current fading flowers, stems and leaves. My advice is to be selective. While even I cannot help myself from cutting back the gnarly remains of some species, plants like Echinacea have parts that provide great function if left in place (or partially in place) over winter and into the following year. Two common species of Echinacea, E. purpurea (purple coneflower) and E. pallida (pale purple coneflower), both appear to provide just as much function after flower as they do while in full bloom. They have large hollow stems that if cut to a height of 18” or more become potential nesting for native bees, and the flowers mature into dark orbs packed full of large seeds that will attract a chattery bunch of goldfinches.

Grasses such as Sprobolus heterolepis (prairie dropseed) or Schizachyrium scoparium (little bluestem) develop beautiful golden tones with seed heads that sway in the late season winds. These grasses (among others) provide food and nesting for small birds and other animals. So, if you are ok with hosting this bit of wildlife, leave the grasses in place until late winter, at which time you can steady the hedge trimmer, shears or pruners and chop them back to about 6”.

If you are looking to up your late-season spectacle, think asters! Symphyotrichum leaeve (smooth aster) and Symphyotrichum oolentangiense (sky blue aster) are two garden favorites and are beautiful planted in with warm-toned fall grasses. Consider species with structural seed heads such as Monarda fistulosa (bee balm), Dalea purpurea (purple prairie clover), and Parthenium integrifolium (wild quinine) among others. And of course, if you are planning to add something to your garden this season or next, it really should be native—for the bees, for the butterflies, for ourselves and our kids.

Bonus tip:

Leave the leaves! 

There is so much happening in the fallen leaves that collect in the garden: Beneficial insects overwinter in this debris, and many organisms feed on this matter as they help to build heathy garden soil. Make sure your garden looks good to you—and your neighbors—and squeeze in some added environmental benefits whenever possible.

Liz is a professional horticulturist, observer, artist and writer, and co-owner of North Branch Natives, an education-focused native plant nursery.

The fall sweet treat is on sale now at Heller Nature Center, the Recreation Center of Highland Park, and Madame Zuzu’s. After a slim honey harvest last year, the Heller staff made some adjustments to help our bees yield a more fruitful—or, rather, flowerful honey yield this season.

“Last year, our concern was with how hot things were, how dry things ended up being, that the flowers came in a bit later in the early summer,” Mark Bryant, Naturalist at Heller Nature Center, said. “So even though the weather this summer was like last summer, we helped our bees along with a sugar syrup to get them through that dry period. We took the sugar syrup away once the flowers came in, and we saw lots of nectar flowing in.”

This early feeding, along with a bit more rain resulting in more flowers for the bees to forage, allowed Heller Nature Center to harvest around 350 lbs. of honey, compared to last year’s meager 75 lbs.

What is it about Heller Honey?

They say variety is the spice of life—in this case, it’s the sweetness, too! But not overly sweet, like most store-bought honey can be. That’s because most mass-produced honey comes from bees that forage from a single flower variety, usually white clover. This produces an overly sweet, sugary honey. Contrarily, Heller bees gather nectar from a variety of local plants including bee balm, linden, acacia, honeysuckle, and other fragrant blossoms, resulting in a more flavorful, balanced honey.

“Our honey has a bit more of an herbal sort of flavor to it. It’s more of a mix,” Bryant said. “It’s because it’s a mix of different wild prairie flowers; the amount and the types of flowers that the bees are harvesting from does affect the flavor and the color of your honey.”

And local honey that comes from a variety of wildflowers has more benefits than just a unique flavor. According to Bryant, there’s evidence to support that if you eat native honey to your local area, it can assist with some allergies.

“Let’s say you’re allergic to some of the flowers that grow on our prairie—because you’re eating honey that has been made by bees from those flowers, it does sort of set your system up to handle those allergies a little bit better,” Bryant said. Additionally, local honey contains various vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that can contribute to a healthy diet and overall wellness.

The Harvesting Process

While the bees have done much of the work by the time the annual harvest rolls around, the honey harvest process involves careful steps to gather the delicious product. The first step is getting it in the building while avoiding bringing any of the bees in with it. An almond-based solution is wafted into the beehive, repelling the bees and pushing them into the lower sections of the hive.

After gently clearing the frames of bees, the beekeepers use heated tools to unseal the honeycomb cells, exposing the honey. The uncapped frames are then placed in a honey extractor, which uses centrifugal force to extract honey without damaging the comb. The extracted honey is strained to remove impurities before being bottled for storage and consumption. The empty frames are returned to the hive for the bees to reuse. This process not only provides delicious Heller Honey, but also supports the bees’ natural behaviors and contributes to the overall health of the hive.

Now What?

Now that this year’s honey has been harvested, what happens to the bees? Post-harvest, it’s all about getting them ready for winter.

Controlling pests before winter is vital; some quick mite treatments are performed to make sure that while the bees are trying to hibernate, they’re not also trying to fight off other creatures. It’s also time to start feeding them again; a two-to-one sugar syrup will ensure that they have the nutrients to make lots of food before it’s time to start hibernating.

Once it is time to start hibernating, it’s essential to ensure that the hive is well-insulated to prevent heat loss. This is achieved by reducing the hive’s entrance size and wrapping it in special quilts that help keep all that warm air trapped inside. Once these preparations are complete, there’s nothing left to do but let the bees hibernate.

“Once you start to get below 60, 55 degrees, it’s critical that they not be disturbed, or they’ll lose all that heat. They spend a lot of time trying to maintain that temperature keeping mostly the Queen and the rest of the hive warm. So we get them set to go, and we wait for the temperature to come back up before we start looking back and seeing how they did.”

Make sure to pick up your jar of Heller Honey before it’s all gone! On sale now at Heller Nature Center (Tue 11:30am-5pm, Wed-Fri 10:30am-5pm, Sat 9am-3pm), the Recreation Center of Highland Park (Mon-Thu 5:30am-9pm, Fri 5:30am-8pm, Sat and Sun 7am-5pm), and Madame Zuzu’s (Mon-Wed 8:30am-5pm, Thu-Sat 8:30am-8pm, Sun 8:30am-4pm). To learn more about Heller Nature Center, visit

Need some snack inspiration?

 Try out these 5 Kid-Friendly Heller Honey Snack Recipes.

From September 15 to October 15, we honor and celebrate the rich cultural tapestry, traditions, and contributions of Hispanic communities. This is a time to recognize the resilience, creativity, and diversity that have shaped our nation’s history and continue to enrich our lives today.

In partnership with the Highland Park Public Library, join us in the celebrations by exploring Hispanic art, music, cuisine, literature, and history.

Mariachi Sirenas

Saturday, September 9 | 11am-noon

Join us as we host Mariachi Sirenas, Chicago’s first all-women mariachi band. This popular mariachi band started performing in 2017 and has performed in many music festivals across the Midwest and had TV appearances on WGN DayTime Chicago and ABC 7 News. The group holds great pride in being part of the community of strong women working together to promote the folkloric arts of Mexico and Latin America.

Location: Adult Services Room at the Highland Park Public Library

Cookin’ with Books: Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

Tuesday, September 12 | 7-8pm

Join us in the Library for this month’s Cookin’ With Books program! Try cookin’ something from a different cookbook, then join us to talk about the results. Even if you haven’t read a cooking book, join in to talk about food! Hola, food lovers! Browse our cookbook collection in the Library or Hoopla and select one that honors the contributions and influence of Hispanic and Latino Americans in our cuisine. From tamales to pupusas; rice with chicken, coconut or beans; dulce de leche, arequipe o cajeta… all brings not only great flavors but also fond memories!

Location: Meeting Room 8 at the Highland Park Public Library

El Mago: A Bilingual Magic Show

Wednesday, September 20 | 6:30-7:30pm

Enjoy the magical feats of El Mago in this family-friendly show. Sponsored by the Friends of the Library.

Location: Auditorium at the Highland Park Public Library

Folkloric Dancing

Sunday, September 24 | 2-4pm

Enjoy watching the Ave Maria Dance Ministry group and dance to Traditional Mexican Folklore Music.  Stay afterward to learn a few steps or two.

All ages. Pre-registration is required for this free event.

Location: West Ridge Center

Talaveras Craft (Ages 8-14)

Monday, September 25 | 3:30-5:30pm
Wednesday, September 27 | 3:30-5:30pm
Friday, September 30 | 3:30-5:30pm

Decorate the Library for Hispanic Heritage Month! Create a colorful square based on Mexican talavera tiles. We’ll display your masterpiece!


Sunday, October 8 | 1-3pm

Have fun learning new words while you play Loteria, Mexican bingo.  Winners will receive a goodie bag filled with Mexican sweet treats!

All ages. Pre-registration is required for this free event.

Location: Heller Nature Center

Mexican Sugar Skulls

Tuesday, October 10 | 6:30-8pm

Honor Hispanic Heritage Month and practice your art skills by decorating a Mexican sugar skull.

Location: Lower Level Meeting Room at the Highland Park Public Library

Coffee with a Scent of Books! Lo Que Yo Vi by Laura Esquivel

Thursday, October 12 | 6:30-8pm

Join us with a delicious coffee, tea, and cookies to discuss the book What I saw by Laura Esquivel. If you didn’t get to read the book, join in sharing what you’ve seen throughout your life. This program is in Spanish only. Find it in the Library or as an audiobook: From the house where she was born, the street games during her childhood, the music that has served as the soundtrack of her life to the social movements and the terrorist attack against the Twin Towers —which she had to witness—Laura Esquivel, the Mexican author most widely read in the world, teaches us through a colorful mosaic of writings what his eyes saw, the things he has witnessed in his 72 years of life. — Goodreads

Location: Lower Level Meeting Room at the Highland Park Public Library

Huguito Gutierrez: Music of the Andes

Saturday, October 14 | 2-3pm

Join us for an afternoon full of music from the Andean Region of South America. Huguito Gutierrez is a musician, author, composer, and inventor. He plays wind and string music instruments from the Andes region. He has recorded over a dozen music albums and his performance career has taken him to prestigious venues across Argentina, Chile, France, and the United States.

Location: Auditorium at the Highland Park Public Library

Hispanic Folktales & Churros

Saturday, October 14 | 6-7:30pm

Join us around the campfire, as we listen to folktales about the mischievous coyote and make campfire churros.

Pre-registration is required. Children under two are free and do not need to be registered.

Location: Heller Nature Center

It’s not alchemy. You talk. We listen.

The Park District is always developing and testing new programs based on community feedback and trends — whether it is a new program topic, a different time of day, day of the week, or even a different age group.  Every season, we add several new classes to the list of offerings that we think you’ll enjoy based on resident suggestions. We try to include fitness trends and other recreational activities for adults. We add nature classes and adventures for kids and families. And we’re always looking at when classes are offered, to better fit your schedule. Whether or not the classes run is most often based on how many people register, but sometimes we hold a class with just a few participants and then tweak it to get more responses.

So, we thought you might like to know a bit about how we create and try out new programs.

Julie Nichols, our Recreation Program Manager, has been working on the question ‘what kinds of Park District classes do Highland Park residents want,’ since she joined the district two years ago. “Even though I had worked in Parks & Recreation on the Northshore for many years, it was critically important for me to understand the Highland Park and Highwood communities.”

Throughout the first year, she offered one-day workshops for a number of different programs, as a way of testing and evaluating the response. “I was in the room during all of those sessions, so I could see and hear what the participants were interested in, and what they wanted to add to the park district program lineup.” She invited them to share their feedback, and they did. “Parents and grandparents told me that they were looking for more weekend options, more programs after 5pm, and that they really wanted more art, music, and dance classes.” Discussions also included adding STEM classes, and that resulted in offering Coding and Engineering with Legos. Julie added, “Online surveys don’t really bring in great response numbers. But talking to residents face-to-face really gives me a chance to listen, and for them to know they’ve been heard.”

Julie, along with Chris Holling, the district’s Recreation Supervisor for Youth Enrichment & Arts also hired a new Dance Coordinator and tested response to a brand new dance program. They held a free, one-day workshop where parents and prospective students could meet the instructor and get a feel for what the program would offer. Then they ran a short summer program. Was it a success? Within 9 months the program had 200 dancers participating in a Spring Recital where more than 400 family members and friends came to applaud! We call that show a big hit.

“We were able to deliver what everyone was looking for, all because we listened to people,” said Nichols. “Our niche is to provide something that anyone at any age can try for the first time. Here, you’ll be celebrated for your choice, you’ll learn something in the classroom, and you’ll be inspired to do more. We hope our participants will want to continue and perhaps move to a next level program, but what we provide is the first stepping stone.” That’s how we do it here at your park district.

In her second year, based on more one-on-one discussions, Julie, along with Chris, launched a whole new set of performing arts classes. This summer they ran a specialty camp called Take the Stage, designed for kids ages 1–4. “Campers enjoyed the full range of traditional summer activities, like swimming and sports, but we featured things that we heard would appeal to ‘theater kids,’ including stage direction, music direction, choreography, and prop construction. It was a great success!” Julie’s favorite Take the Stage memory? “Seeing the pride and confidence on the campers’ faces as they performed.” As they looked ahead to creating a fall theater program lineup, Julie and Chris asked the Take the Stage counselors to write a personal note to each family. “Those letters were so important, because we were able to tell moms and dads that their child had shown a particular interest in music, or dance, or acting, and we could recommend that they look at one of the new classes we are now offering this season.” Those include Introduction to Theatre (concentrating on stage direction); Broadway Here I Come (with an emphasis on music, dance, and acting); and a Teen Improv class.

In the talking stage is creating a Teen Advisory Committee, to help the district develop more programs for that age group. Things like becoming a Certified Babysitter, and being certified in CPR. “We know we can learn a lot from listening to teens in the community, and we’re really looking forward to making that happen.”

The Park District serves all ages, and to learn more about another important demographic in our community—those folks without young children.   This summer Julie produced a series called In The Parks — nine free events in nine different parks. Once again, it gave her a great opportunity to talk to active adults and find out what they were looking for from us. “At a recent concert in Memorial Park, where the people were mostly ages 65 and up, we asked questions like ‘where do you find out about park district events and programs’, ‘how do you put it on your calendar,’ and ‘how far in advance do you do that.’” Think of it as trading a free concert for real-time feedback. It’s invaluable, and we are so grateful for the information we get.

Coming up, look for more workshops and more free concerts, including the brand new Dance Team and the Hip Hop Crew doing performances at community events, assisted living facilities, and nursing homes. Giving back. It’s another thing we love to do.

We would also love to hear from you. Tell us your ideas, and let’s work together to make something wonderful happen. You can find us on the website, along with hundreds of programs and events we know you’ll enjoy. Until next time… See you around the parks!

Updates from the August Park Board Meetings

August 2: Lakefront, Parks, and Natural Areas Committee Meeting

Staff reviewed the donation from the Fontana-Pasquesi family and the draft agreement to rename Cloverdale Park. 

Staff reviewed the design development layout plan for the site, furniture, pergola, fencing, and boardwalk options for the Park Avenue North Project.

Staff proposed two (2) projects for the Open Space Land Acquisition and Development (OSLAD) Grant Application. Staff received consensus from the Committee to use the redevelopment of Lincoln Park for the grant application. 

Staff are developing a request for proposal for additional recreational purposes at the Highland Park Golf Learning Center. 

Moroney Park Playground is expected to reopen in late August.

August 15: Finance Committee Meeting

Staff reviewed the Lincoln Park Improvements project budget with/without OSLAD grant Funds and the impacts on the five-year capital plan. 

Staff reviewed the bid openings for the 2023 Roof Improvements Project. It was the consensus of the Committee to place the bid from All American Exterior Solutions on the consent agenda at the August 23, 2023 Regular Meeting. 

Staff reviewed the construction management contract proposals from Gilbane and W.B. Olsen for the New Community Center at West Ridge Park. 

The Park District and Larry Hillman, Hilco, are hosting a neighborhood meeting on Monday, August 21, 2023, regarding the proposed north parking lot at Sunset Woods Park. 

Staff provided a five-year financial analysis report for athletics and a review of the cost centers from January 1, 2023 – July 31, 2023. 

August 23: Regular Meeting of the Park Board

The Park Board of Commissioners approved Ordinance #2023-06: Authorizing and Providing for the Conveyance or Sale of Surplus Personal Property, the OSLAD Grant Resolution of Authorization, and the 2023 Roof Improvements Project Bid.  

The Park Board of Commissioners approved the Donation and Naming Rights Agreement between the Park District of Highland Park and Laurence and Maria Fontana-Pasquesi. The park name “Fontana-Pasquesi Park” will sit for a period of 60 days for public review before being formally adopted based on a 4/5 vote of the Park Board of Commissioners.

The Park District is terminating the contract with Aqua Blue Pools for breach of contract as Aqua Blue Pools has failed to provide the required Performance Bond and Labor and Material Payment Bond. Staff reviewed plans to complete the necessary repairs to the pool shell in advance of the 2024 season.

We may have our roots in different countries/cultures, practice different religions, have different skin tones, but one thing we all have in common is our respect for our ancestors, those who have come before us.

The Park District of Highland Park is partnering with the Highland Park Sister Cities Foundation, The Art Center of Highland Park and Working Together to create a community mural. If you would like to participate, please submit a 10 inch x 12 inch drawing depicting ways in which you honor your ancestors.

Select artists will be chosen to paint their pieces with Chicago Muralist, Oscar Romero, at Heller Nature Center during the last week of October. We will have the mural displayed at our Dia De Los Muertos event on Saturday, November 4.

The deadline to submit is September 25, 2023. Submit your art and questions to Jessica Reyes at or mail:

Heller Nature Center
2821 Ridge Road
Highland Park, IL 60035

While the big kids are busy at school, we’ve got plenty of opportunities to keep your little ones active and learning this Fall! From creative outlets to outdoor adventures, here’s a list of ideas to fill those precious hours with your tots at the Park District of Highland Park.

Adventure Into Our Story Trail

Read and walk our featured book along the trails at Heller Nature Center.

Visit One of Our 22 Playgrounds

Be sure to check out our two newly renovated tot playgrounds at Moroney Park and Sunset Woods Park.

Explore Wander Woods

Visit Heller Nature Center and enjoy this unique nature play area.

Play a Round of Mini Golf

Enjoy our challenging 18-hole mini golf course. Fun for the whole family.

Walk the Trails

Did you know we have over 20 miles of walking trails at the Park District? Find a path near you.

Plan a Picnic at the Park

Enjoy a picnic at one of our parks! We have over 40 parks to choose from.

Looking for a program option? We have Weekday, Weekend, and Early Evening Programs

Cooking Up Memories at Home

Heller Honey is on sale! Grab a jar or 2 at the Recreation Center of Highland Park, Heller Nature Center or Madame Zuzu’s and whip up one of these kid-friendly recipes:

  1. Honey Apple Nachos: Give your nachos a makeover and swap out chips and cheese for apples and honey! Cut your apple slices nice and thin and then cover them with Heller honey and your kids’ toppings of choice. It’s a healthy alternative to your traditional nachos, and a sweet treat for snack time!
  2. Honey Oatmeal Energy Bites: These no-bake bites are sure to make you the Queen Bee of the neighborhood! Combine 1 ½ cups of rolled oats, ¼ cup of honey, 1/3 cup of cashew butter, and 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed. Let this mixture chill out in the freezer for about 15 minutes and then roll them into bite-sized balls. Finish them off with a quick roll in some shredded coconut and enjoy!
  3. Honey Fruit Dip: This recipe is as easy as 1-2-3…which is exactly how many ingredients you need to make it! All you need to do for this yummy fruit dip is combine ¼ cup of plain Greek yogurt, ¼ cup of peanut butter, and 2 tablespoons of Heller honey. It’s really that easy!

Before heading out to your favorite Park District of Highland Park facility on Labor Day weekend, check out our hours!

FacilitySaturday, September 2Sunday, September 3Monday, September 4
Centennial Ice ArenaClosedClosedClosed
Deer Creek Racquet ClubClosedClosedClosed
Heller Nature CenterBuilding Open 9am-3pm, Trails Open 7:30am to Dusk Building Closed, Trails Open 7:30am to DuskBuilding Closed, Trails Open 7:30am to Dusk
Hidden Creek AquaPark (closed for the season starting Tues., Sept 5) Lap Swim - 5:30-11am; Open Swim - 11am-6pmLap Swim - 5:30-11am; Open Swim - 11am-6pmLap Swim - 5:30-10am; Open - 10am-5pm
Highland Park Golf Learning Center8am-7pm (weather permitting)8am-7pm (weather permitting)8am-7pm (weather permitting)
Recreation Center of Highland Park (Fitness)7am-5pm7am-5pm7am-Noon
Recreation Center of Highland Park (Indoor Pool)ClosedClosedClosed
River's Edge Mini Golf8am-7pm (weather permitting)8am-7pm (weather permitting)8am-7pm (weather permitting)
Rosewood Beach (swimming beach is closed for the season starting Tues., Sept 5) 10am-6pm10am-6pm10am-6pm
Sunset Valley Golf Club6am-7pm (weather permitting)6am-7pm (weather permitting)6am-7pm (weather permitting)
West Ridge Center8:30am-4pm8:30am-4pmClosed

Moroney Park’s Weil Tot Lot is now open for play!

Over the next month, a few finishing touches will take place on and near the playground. 

The Park District anticipates the playground may close for a day to complete these finishing touches and an update will be posted on the website prior to the temporary closure.