This past week our community celebrated the opening of The Preserve of Highland Park. Festivities kicked off on Thursday June 2 at an event recognizing key partners in the project including the construction teams, Resident Advisory Committee, the City of Highland Park, Lake County, and the State of Illinois. Park Board President Terry Grossberg hosted the ceremony. Among those in attendance were Illinois Senator of the 29th District, Julie Morrison; Illinois Representative of the 58th District, Bob Morgan; and City of Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering along with members of the Park District of Highland Park Board of Commissioners, Parks Foundation of Highland Park Board members, and City Council members.

The public grand opening event took place on Saturday, June 4. Over 200 residents enjoyed a day exploring the natural world around the ponds and at the turtle meadow, new nature maze, pollinator garden, and sand play area.

The Preserve of Highland Park is a unique 100+ acre property comprised of green lawns, nature-based play areas, specialized native gardens, restored woodlands, and walking and biking trails that connect neighborhoods, downtown Highland Park, and regional biking trails.  Visitors can immerse themselves in the sights, sounds, and experiences of nature and outdoor play. The property provides enhanced habitat for several native species including turtles, pollinators, and over 110 species of birds.

Interpretive, interactive signage and ongoing public programming opportunities will allow visitors to learn about important conservation efforts. The Preserve will host summer camp visits, nature educational programs, fitness classes, and special events. The Recreation Center of Highland Park, The Highland Park Senior Center, and the Highland Park Golf Learning Center/Rivers Edge Adventure Golf are steps from the outdoor spaces and trails of The Preserve.

The Preserve is also designed to take advantage of manufactured and natural features to help with local flood relief – including added capacity for flood storage, conversion of 50+ acres of turfgrass into native plantings that absorb and cleanse stormwater, and restoration of more than 2,500 linear feet of pond shoreline providing large-scale water quality benefits in the highly developed Skokie River watershed.

The Park District’s Cunniff Park has been tapped as the location for the third annual Chicago Pickleball Open Tournament, scheduled for September 1– 5, making Highland Park a destination spot for players and fans of the sport. The event, which will be televised on CBS Network Sports, is a sanctioned U.S.A. Pickleball Association tournament. An estimated 500 players are expected to compete with a $35,000 purse for professional competitors.   

Today, pickleball, a hybrid of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong, is the fastest-growing sport in America. In the five years to the end of 2019, pickleball participation grew by more than 7%, according to the Sport & Fitness Industry Association. 

“Like the rest of the country, pickleball is catching on quickly in Highland Park and all over the north shore, and this tournament is a great opportunity to grow the sport even more,” said Brian Romes, executive director for the Park District of Highland Park.  

A few years back, residents began asking for a spot to play, and the demand has only grown, Romes said. In response, the Park District built six dedicated pickleball courts at Cunniff Park and two dedicated pickleball courts at Woodridge Park. Several existing tennis courts are lined for pickleball play, including two at Brown Park, two at Old Elm Park, and one at Woodridge Park. In addition, Deer Creek Racquet Club hosts pickleball leagues and offers drill and play lessons throughout the year. 

The tournament is open to any interested players, both amateurs and professionals.

“We have a vast array of opportunities for players of all levels,” said Ken Herrmann, executive director of Chicago Metro Pickleball and co-director of the open.

Spectators are welcome to watch, and athletes of all ages are invited to try out the sport.

“It’s a family event,” Herrmann said. “Everyone can play because of the small size of the court and the actual pickleball, which moves very fast. Everyone can get relatively good quickly and get out there and enjoy the game.” The tournament includes three age levels; juniors, adults, and seniors, including men’s and women’s singles, doubles, and mixed doubles. 

Though everyone is welcome, Highland Park residents can expect to see some pro athletes. “Some of the biggest pros are coming in from across the country,” Herrmann said.

Players interested in taking part in the open can register here.

In preparation for the tournament, please be aware of the following court closures at Danny Cunniff Park: the basketball court and tennis courts #1 and #7 will be closed to the public Aug 26 – Sept 9.  All tennis and pickleball courts will be closed to the public Sept 1-5.

Ditch your electronic devices and plug into fun and activities for all ages at “Unplug Illinois Day” on July 10 from 10am to noon at Sunset Woods Park.   The event is free!

The event’s activities include:

Our Planning Department staff will be on hand to gather community input on potential future features for the park as part of the Sunset Woods Park master planning project.   

Unplug Illinois is a collaborative initiative between the University of Illinois and Illinois Parks and Recreation Association to raise awareness and educate communities across the state about the value of parks and recreation.

The Park District of Highland Park has joined the City of Highland Park’s commitment to protect monarch butterflies by taking the Illinois Monarch Project Pledge to plant and protect monarch habitat in our community.   This step aligns with the Park District’s mission to enhance community life with an appreciation of the natural world and our vision of inspiring environmental stewardship and education

Over the past 20 years, the iconic Monarch Butterfly has faced a significant decline in habitat, specifically milkweed plants they require for breeding and nourishment during migration. In response, a new statewide initiative, the Illinois Monarch Project, was formed to protect and enhance existing habitat and help establish new habitat that supports monarchs and other pollinators.

The goal of the 15-year project is to plant 150 million new milkweed stems in the state of Illinois by 2038. What does that look like? Each person in the state of Illinois plants 12 stems or four milkweed plants per acre in the entire state.

As part of its pledge, the Park District is creating educational and interactive programming to engage the community on how to create sustainable pollinator habitats.

Get Involved

Planting Milkweed 

Plants native to our region such as Common and Swamp Milkweed are well adapted to our soil and climate. Select a planting location based on the guidelines below:

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca):
• Full sun
• Average to moist soil
• Height= 3-6 feet
• Purple or white spherical umbel flowers bloom June-August

Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata):
• Part to full sun
• Average to moist soil
• Height= 3-4 feet
• Pink flowers bloom June- August

How to plant:
1. Select a suitable site based on the growing conditions described above.
2. Dig a hole that is wider than the root ball size but not any deeper.
3. Carefully remove the plug from the container. It is best to push the root ball out from the bottom of the container and not pull on the top growth of the plant.
4. If roots appear to be tightly bound together, gently loosen the roots with your fingers.
5. Place the plant in the hole.
6. Fill in the hole around the plant with the removed soil. Compost can be added to enrich the soil.
7. Water thoroughly after planting.
8. Water regularly until plant has become established.

Highland Park area residents are invited to explore seven great neighborhood parks by bike the weekend of September 25-27, courtesy of the Parks Foundation of Highland Park. The Foundation, which provides access to healthy, enriching activities for all community members, is proud to support free family fun while spotlighting several of the 44 beautiful parks managed by the Park District of Highland Park.

Participants may ride at their leisure any day and time during the weekend, choosing between a seven park 10-mile loop and a three park 5-mile family-friendly loop. Safe route maps will be emailed to all who register. Although the event is complimentary, the Foundation encourages participants to make a donation when registering to help fund scholarships that give Highland Park and Highwood residents access to Park District classes and camps.

The parks of Highland Park feature beachfront bluffs, tree-filled ravines, world-class sports fields, top-tier racquet courts, playgrounds, dog-friendly areas, public art, open land, and community gathering spaces. The Bike the Parks route will take riders from the downtown area to the Highlands, passing unique spots ranging from a 100-year-old war memorial to a cozy chess pavilion. Even longtime residents will surely discover new and interesting sites while getting some exercise and enjoying the lovely fall weather.

“We hope the community will take advantage of this wonderful organized opportunity to tour some of Highland Park’s best spots,” said Parks Foundation Board President Bob Bernstein. “Our parks are truly special and there’s no better way to really experience them than on a bicycle!”

As a bonus, participants who take their picture at each park sign along the route and tag the Parks Foundation on Facebook or Instagram will be entered into a drawing for prizes. Cyclists of all ages and abilities are welcome to hop on their bikes and join the fun!

The Parks Foundation of Highland Park is dedicated to the belief that every resident deserves the opportunity for an enriched, healthy lifestyle. The Foundation supports and enhances the Park District of Highland Park’s exceptional facilities and provides resources to ensure that all community members are able to participate in Park District programs. The Parks Foundation of Highland Park is an independent, community-led, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. For more information, visit

The Prairie Room at Heller Nature Center is showcasing a unique photography exhibit of Illinois’ endangered and threatened species by renowned photographer Carol Freeman.  The exhibition, which runs through April 2020, includes extraordinary photos of endangered orchids, dragonflies, and owls.   Freeman hopes these images will inspire some to learn more about these species and to help preserve them.

Carol Freeman’s true passion is photographing nature. Her images reflect her philosophy of finding beauty in everything. She sees with an artist’s eye and feels with a naturalist’s heart. Her respect for nature has led her to create beautiful, light-filled images with low-impact techniques that leave the habitat just as she found it. Her shots are all achieved without the use of flash, fill, or tripod.  Her photos have appeared in many publications, including several Photoshop books by Scott Kelby, Audubon Wildflower Calendar, and magazines, including National Geographic, Canadian Geographic, Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design, Kew, Nikon World, Northshore, Nature Photographer, and Birds & Blooms. Her images adorn the covers of Chicago Wilderness, Illinois Now, Chicago Home & Garden, Outdoor Illinois, and Horizons. She was featured in The Costco Connection and Professional Photographer magazines. In the winter 2010 issue of Nikon World Magazine featured Freeman’s photography.

Freeman founded a not-for-profit called Team Green Environmental Network, a 501(c)3 organization dedicated to environmental education. Its mission is to educate, enlighten, and inspire people to reconnect with and learn to appreciate nature.  From 1990-2003 she owned and operated a successful graphic design company, Freeman Design. She also art-directed the award-winning Chicago Wilderness Magazine for four years.  Freeman received a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the University of Illinois, with a minor in photography. She continues taking classes to earn a Naturalist Certificate.

Heller Nature Center is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 am to 5 pm, and Saturdays from 9 am to 3 pm. Please contact Heller Nature Center at 847.433.6901 before your visit to be sure the Prairie Room is accessible for your viewing.

The Park District of Highland Park’s competitive gymnastics team participated in the Gymnastics Factory Meet held on Sunday, February 16.  Our level Three Team won the first place team award and five first place all-around awards.  Standing on the top of the podium in their respective age groups were Hannah Maletsky, Rowan Kach, Fiona Brownstein, Lauren Smiley and Charlie Weisbart.  Sydney Genser placed second in her age division, and Naomi Rago placed sixth in her age division. 

The team finished the meet strong winning beam and floor exercise events.  Coach Bruce Keeshin is impressed with the improvement he has seen from the girls, and is looking forward to our next meet in March.

First row (left to right) Charlie Weisbart, Sydney Genser, Hannah Maletsky, Naomi Rago 
Second row (left to right) Alexa Spector, Rowan Kach, Lauren Smiley, Fiona Brownstein

The Park District of Highland Park will celebrate the community’s talented young athletes and their dedicated coaches at the fifth annual “Champions Banquet.”  The guest speaker will be Chris Chelios, former Chicago Blackhawks player and Hockey Hall of Famer. The Champions Banquet will take place on Thursday, April 30, 2020,  at 6 p.m. at the Highland Park Country Club, 1201 Park Avenue West. Co-presenters of the event are Banner Kitchen & Bath Showroom and Robert J. Semrad Foundation.

Every year, hundreds of Highland Park kids participate in Park District athletics programs to become champions at building their skills and love of the sport as well as learning the value of good sportsmanship. The Champions Banquet is a way to celebrate these great young athletes, their families, and the Park District’s dedicated coaches with a memorable evening and to raise funds so less fortunate kids can have the same great sports experiences.

Chris Chelios is a former professional ice hockey defenseman and one of the longest-tenured players in the National Hockey League (NHL). He is a three-time Stanley Cup champion, was inducted in the Hockey Hall of fame in 2013, and in 2017 was named one of the ‘100 Greatest NHL Players’ in history.      

During his professional career, Chelios played for the Montreal Canadiens, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, and the Atlanta Thrashers. He holds several NHL records including:

“Chris Chelios not only epitomizes everything a champion is but, he also is one of the most recognizable figures in hockey history,” said Chris Maliszewski, Assistant Director of Recreation with the Park District of Highland Park.  “We are very fortunate to have Chris as this year’s guest of honor at the 2020 Champions Banquet, and I look forward to our guests having the opportunity to interact with him and hear his message for our community.”

The Scholarships Mean Involvement in Leisure for Everyone (SMILE) Grant-In-Aid Program has enabled hundreds of families in need of financial assistance access to all recreation programs,  including summer camps, swimming lessons, sports, and fitness programs.  With support from residents and local businesses through donations and a variety of community events, approximately  $100,000 in grants are awarded each year to Park District of Highland Park families through this worthwhile program.

The Park District of Highland Park offers a wide array of sports opportunities for all ages, including baseball, basketball, football, lacrosse, softball, volleyball, track & field, tennis, golf, figure skating, hockey, gymnastics, and swimming.  The District’s athletic departments are staffed by professionals in their field and share a common goal of providing high-quality experiences for every athlete.

For more information or to become a “Champions Banquet” sponsor, please contact Chris Maliszewski, Assistant Director of Recreation at the Park District of Highland Park at 847.579.3108 or