One of the most beautiful places to hold your next special event is close to home, yet a world away. The Prairie Room, at Heller Nature Center, looks out over a 97-acre landscape of a beautiful oak-hickory forest and local wildlife. It offers a peaceful, serene space that’s perfect for birthday parties, reunions, bar mitzvahs, and weddings. Off-site corporate roundtables, monthly club gatherings, workshops, seminars, and presentations are popular here in this secluded atmosphere, where taking a break from the action includes a refreshing walk in the woods on three miles of trails—something a hotel conference room just can’t match.

The Prairie Room is one of the larger venues available in the area, able to accommodate up to 100 people. Tables and chairs can be set up in a wide variety of configurations, audiovisual equipment is available at no extra charge, and use of the kitchen is included. Rental applications are processed on a first-come, first-served basis.

The unique setting of the Nature Center has made it the go-to place for residents and businesses in and around Highland Park for many years. “You won’t find a place like Heller in most of our neighboring towns,” said Debbie Pierce, District Wide Rental Manager, “and that makes it especially attractive to people who want to host a one-of-a-kind event.”

In addition to the Prairie Room, Heller Nature Center has another enticing feature for groups of up to 25 people: The Fire Ring. It’s outdoors (of course) and is perfect for campfire fun in spring, summer, and fall. Wood and a lighter are provided, along with a water tank. Cooking over the fire is not allowed, but roasting marshmallows is encouraged! Scout troops love it. Girls’ Night Out is unlike any other. Family reunions around a fire get even warmer and more memorable. The Fire Ring is available as a separate rental, or as an extra-special add-on to any Prairie Room rental.

Guests can also enjoy our self-guided StoryTrail and WanderWoods free play natural area designed to nurture a child’s sense of wonder and discovery. Nestled in the trees and solitude, children can climb a tree house, create in a mud kitchen, experiment with ramps and much more. Let the creativity and messiness begin. 

Want to add a little adventure to your private event? Our one-of-a-kind Teams Course is made up of a series of thought-provoking ground-level puzzles, challenges and obstacles, each one having a specific set of tasks and an end goal that can only be accomplished by all members working as a cohesive group. Throughout the program our experienced facilitators lead group discussions on the insights and skills learned to help the team progress further along the course and integrate new ideas into their daily lives all in a safe and private environment.

Our friendly staff is ready, willing, able, and happy to assist with coordinating your event, any day of the week. To reserve a date for your next very special celebration or meeting, contact Debbie Pierce at 847.579.4047 or email  For more information about our teams course, contact Mark Bryant at, 847.579.4184.

Go Green

Heller Nature Center and the Park District of Highland Park support green initiatives and encourage our renters to consider ways in which to make their events more sustainable! If you are looking for ideas, download our list of Sustainable Events Suggestions.

 Facility is closed Monday, August 15 – Friday, August 19 

 Indoor Pool is Closed Monday, August 15 – Sunday, August 28 

Fitness Options During Shutdown

Outdoor Group Exercise Schedule** 

8:30am Cycle8:30am Zumba8:30am Cycle9:30am HIIT8:30am Zumba
9:30am Strength9:30am Cardio Sculpt9:30am Barre9:30am Yoga9:30am Strength

Beach Yoga (Free for RCHP Members)

Wednesday and Friday, 7-8am

Sachs Recreation Center, Deerfield

All active members of the Recreation Center are welcome to use Sachs Recreation Center (455 Lake Cook Rd, Deerfield) between August 15 – 19. Provide your RCHP membership scan card for entry.

Aquatics Options During Shutdown

 Hidden Creek Lap Swim, August 15 – 28 

Hidden Creek Aqua Fitness Schedule**

**Weather permitting. Classes are 45 minutes.

Centennial Ice Arena is temporarily closed, and ice programs will not be offered in Fall 2022 due to an unexpected and necessary replacement of the rink floor. 

An unknown issue was uncovered on the rink floor during our regular annual maintenance in June. Since then, the Park District has acted swiftly to conduct an exhaustive investigation of the facility and ice flooring system with an engineering firm. The findings confirmed that the building is structurally sound. However, the rink floor has been compromised and will require complete replacement.   

This is very disappointing for our Park District, our participants, and the community. Our top priority is to deliver essential recreation programs to our community safely. To this end, we have a number of options for our skaters:

Off-Ice Programs – Students can improve athleticism by working on flexibility, core strength, balance, and jump techniques to enhance their on-ice performance. Programs will be held this fall at the Recreation Center of Highland Park. Learn more and register.

On-Ice Programs – We have partnered with the Winnetka Park District to provide Learn-to-Skate programs for our skaters this Fall at the Winnetka Ice Arena ( 490 Hibbard, Winnetka, IL).  The Winnetka Park District is also generously extending resident rates to Highland Park residents for their Fall Learn-to-Skate programs.  Learn more and register for Winnetka Learn-to-Skate classes.

On-Ice Hockey Programs – Looking to learn how to play hockey? Contact Nick Meo, Falcons Hockey Association, at for more information.

An expeditious replacement of the ice rink flooring is a priority for the Park District. We will keep residents and our Centennial ice participants updated on the replacement of the rink floor timeline and progress. 

The Park District’s gymnastics programs will continue to be offered at Lincoln School, located at 711 Lincoln Ave. Register for fall gymnastics classes.  

There is much to enjoy and explore in the Park District of Highland Park’s newest open space: The Preserve of Highland Park.  One of its most notable features is located off-the-beaten paths. The Turtle Meadow was created as a landward retreat for some important semi-aquatic creatures who live on the property. Jokes Rebecca Grill, the Park District’s natural areas manager, “If we build it, will turtles come?”

Three species of turtles have so far been identified on the property. Painted turtles have been seen sitting atop logs in the north pond with box turtles on the nearby shoreline. Large snapping turtles have been spotted making their stately way along the river side path.

These sightings inspired community members and staff during the planning process for The Preserve that began in 2019. “We wanted to honor the environment by creating specialized habitat for this new park and its creatures,” Grill said. Turning former sand bunkers into turtle nesting habitat was one creative way to accomplish this.

When we talk about Illinois, we don’t generally talk about turtles, but there are 17 species of these ancient creatures living in the state. Grill says that six are on the endangered species list due to habitat loss. “We’re just trying to do our part in the effort to protect the turtles. We knew these creatures existed here; how could we help them?”

Research into creating an ideal nesting habitat for the turtles found that turtles need sandy soil in an unshaded, wide-open area. “Fortuitously, we have 48 sand bunkers on the property from its previous incarnation as a golf course,” notes Grill. “We re-purposed some of them to create the habitat.”

The Turtle Meadow was placed at the Preserve’s north end, designated as a more quiet and protected area. A turtle-themed Sand Play Area was installed closer to The Preserve’s entrance off Park Avenue to engage children with two turtle shell-shaped climbing mounds and a sand area where children can dig for turtle fossils.

Instrumental in bringing Turtle Meadow to fruition, Grill says, was Shayna Zavell, a junior at Highland Park High School, whose family has been avid supporters of the Park District. “My family has been volunteering for the Park District for as long as I can remember,” Zavell says. “Both my brothers were Eagle Scouts, so they did projects with Rebecca. I reached out to her to ask if there were any projects I could contribute to because I am interested in conservation. So, she told me about the turtle project.”

Zavell undertook research into what the turtles would need in their newly created habitat. She also helped with the informational signage at Turtle Meadow and the Sand Play Area and measures—encircling the areas where the turtles lay eggs with mesh—to help protect turtle eggs from predators, including raccoons and coyotes. “The goal is to increase turtle populations,” she says.

Zavell hopes The Turtle Meadow and the Sand Play Area will raise community awareness. “I don’t think most people know there are even turtles in Highland Park,” she said. “It’s important we help these fascinating species.”

For more information or to volunteer to help monitor the turtles, email Rebecca Grill at or call the Park District at (847) 831-3810.

The Preserve of Highland Park is located at 1207 Park Ave West.  Conversion of the site from its historical use as a golf course began in November 2020 and officially opened to the public in June 2022.   Today, The Preserve of Highland Park celebrates nature and our place in it. The unique 100+ acre property was designed to take advantage of the interesting golf-related topography and includes green lawns, nature-based play areas, specialized native gardens, restored woodlands, and walking and biking trails that connect neighborhoods and downtown Highland Park, and regional biking trails. Visitors can immerse themselves in the sights, sounds, and experiences of nature and outdoor play.

You deserve this! Sunset Valley Golf Club is open for the season this Sunday, March 20 for Walking Only.

There are so many things that make living in Highland Park special. We have an amazing and supportive community, beautiful landscapes, and the best location in the Midwest, right on the shores of Lake Michigan. 

Big plans for a $2.5 million improvement at the Park Avenue Boating Facility are in the works.   The project, is estimated to begin in Fall 2022 and be completed by Spring 2023 and will include a new breakwater and  boat launch.   The new breakwater will replace the existing structure that has outlived its useful life and the new launch will replace the existing launch that collapsed in 2021. 

The Parks Foundation of Highland Park, the Park District, and a group of committed Highland Park residents are determined to see this project become a reality—funding will come from Park District funds, a potential grant from the state of Illinois, and $300,000 in individual donations.

A generous individual has stepped up to offer up to $150,000 in matching funds to see that you and I can safely enjoy walking and boating at Park Avenue Beach for years to come.

Including matching funds, right now, the Foundation is more than 66% of its way to the goal with $204,000 in individual donations. 

As you consider your philanthropic giving for this year, please consider a gift of any amount to support the Park Avenue Breakwater & Boat Ramp.  Donors will receive the following recognition: 

You will be contacted in Spring 2022 with specific details on your donation recognition. For additional information, please get in touch with Liz Gogola at or 847-579-3136.

About the Project

The new breakwater will have a sheet pile foundation, need little maintenance, and have an expected life of 50-70 years.  Its “pedestrian-friendly” paved surface will be approximately 22 feet wide, with benches for residents to sit and enjoy the lake.  The new concrete ramp will allow for two-way boat launches. 

The new breakwater and boat launch will make our lakefront more enjoyable and safe by:
• Protecting the beach from erosion
• Protecting the cove that allows all watercraft to launch safely
• Providing a safe place for walking and fishing, powerboating, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, and events
• Maintaining a rescue boat launch for the Fire Department and water safety personnel
• Enabling the Yacht Club to launch its safety boat team for classes and races

With the project complete, all Highland Park residents can safely enjoy everything their lakefront has to offer. The project will help ensure safe water recreation activities can continue in Lake Michigan.

In addition to boating activities, the improved Park Avenue will attract and support our downtown district use and tourism. Improvements to the breakwater and boat ramp will help Highland Park retain its reputation as a vibrant boating community, attracting new business and residents.

Installation begins next week on a new solar photovoltaic (PV) power plant at Deer Creek Racquet Club.   The new system will provide an estimated energy savings of $4,000 or approximately 11% per year for the Club.   The Park District entered into a lease agreement with Realgy, LLC in December 2020 to provide the new Deer Creek solar plant as part of the Park District’s commitment to reduce its carbon footprint.  The new system will generate 180,000kWh annually, equivalent to powering over 17 average Illinois homes per year.  Utilizing solar also provides a clean alternative to coal.  The new Deer Creek system will substitute 245 tons of coal burned which means removing 127,000 lbs. of CO2 into the environment annually, the equivalent of planting 9,800 trees.  

In the agreement, the Connecticut-based Realgy will pay for the installation and ongoing maintenance of the Deer Creek PV Solar Power Plant.   The term of the lease is 25 years.  The new PV Solar Power plant is a 149 kW system.  Based on Deer Creek’s 2019 usage, the system is estimated to produce 39% of the building’s energy needs. The remainder of the energy needs will come from the power grid and be supplied by Realgy, which averages 5% below ComEd rates.  Annual credits are built into the agreement for additional savings.

It will take two to three weeks to install the new PV system on the Deer Creek roof.  Once the system is inspected, commissioned, and tested, it will be operational in January 2022.  During this time, Deer Creek will remain open for its regular hours of operation.  

“The partnership with Realgy is another example of our Park District’s ongoing efforts to provide economic, environmental, and health benefits for our residents,” said Brian Romes, executive director for the Park District of Highland Park. 

Now this is something to howl about!   Our winter dog park under the lights at the Highland Park Golf Learning Center is open for the season for all current dog park members and their pooches.  There are two off-leash exercise areas available, depending on the size of your dog. The park is located at 2205 Skokie Valley Highway and the hours are dawn to 7pm. 

For more information on our dog parks and to apply for a dog park membership, click the button below.

More than 100 Oak trees in Sunset Woods Park were treated this fall to protect against damage caused by the Twolined Chestnut Borer. This treatment should provide two-year protection for vulnerable trees. 

Oak trees become susceptible to damage from the Chestnut Borer beetle when tree vigor is reduced by drought and/or other diseases. Infested oaks can die after 2 to 3 years of infestation. The District has worked with tree care experts to identify at-risk trees for treatment. 

For more information, contact Rebecca Grill at

At their meetings this week, the Highland Park City Council and Park District Board of Commissioners approved an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) for the City-owned property commonly known as Park Avenue Boating Facility. Under the conditions of the IGA, the Park District will have the right to use the property for public recreation purposes for a term of 50 years, including but not limited to fishing, power boating, sailing, kayaking, paddle boarding, use of the Yacht Club building, camp programming, and other comparable activities. No rent or fee will be paid to the City by the Park District for the term of the agreement.

The agreement allows the Park District to make any necessary repairs or improvements to the boating facility so long as they do not impact the operation and maintenance of the water plant or present any threat to the safety and security of the water plant. Also, under the terms of the agreement, the City will continue to maintain all parking lot areas (except for the North Parking Lot, which is owned by the Park District and the storage lot areas south of Yacht Club). The Park District will be responsible for enforcement of parking regulations for the parking lots on the Park Avenue Boating Facility.

“This is a wonderful example of how two governmental bodies can work together to address the needs of the community for generations to come,” said Barney Ruttenberg, President of the Park District Board of Commissioners. “With this agreement in place, the Park District can now take the appropriate steps to ensure long term access to recreational boating at Park Avenue Boating Facility, consistent with the Board approved Lakefront Master Plan.”

“The City values our partnership with the Park District of Highland Park, and appreciates the hard work of elected officials and staff to develop an agreement that will serve our community well into the future,” said Mayor Nancy Rotering. “Formalizing responsibilities relative to the maintenance and use of this public lakefront area will allow the Park District to enhance boating and recreational water activities while ensuring the City’s access to the property for emergency water rescues and the security of Water Treatment Plant operations.”

The continued partnership between the City of Highland Park and the Park District of Highland Park will facilitate efforts to restore the Park Avenue Boating Facility’s boat launch and pursue additional improvement projects to ensure the community’s continued enjoyment of this natural resource.

More information about the Park Avenue Boating Facility is available at Questions regarding the Facility should be directed to the Park District of Highland Park, Mitch Carr, Director of Recreation and Facilities,