Stearns Quarry Park
Hiking among small canyons and cliffs used to mean a two-hour drive to Starved Rock. But now you can see rock walls, canyons, a small lake and even a manmade waterfall—in Bridgeport. Last year, the City of Chicago turned the remnants of Stearns Quarry into a park that’s like a mini state park. It all started after the Chicago Fire when companies started to mine the limestone and quarry stone in the four-block area between 27th, 33rd, Halsted and Poplar Streets. Old Bridgeport residents talked about hearing dynamiting, steam engines and pack mules going 24/7 from that time until the 1950s till work stopped completely in 1969. After sitting vacant for more than twenty years, the city used most of the “hole” as a landfill for cement, rock and other solid refuse (not garbage). This accounts for the giant, grass-covered hill that takes up about two-thirds of the park. There is a hiking trail around it, and in and of itself it would be one of the more unique parks in the city. But planners left the Northwest wall open. Here, a sheer rock cliff, dotted with weeds and hearty plants drops a good five stories down from 27th Street. At the bottom of the cliff is a freshwater lagoon, large enough to fish in. To the immediate east is the cascading limestone waterfall. Water is apparently pumped in from the seepage from the giant hill to the south. All around this site are trails running on top for a birds-eye view of the cliff and lagoon, with more paths along the base where you can hear the waterfall and toss stones into the lagoon.
South Halsted between 27th and 31st
Best of Chicago 2009