Best Man-Made Geographical Wonder

Critics' Picks

Stearns Quarry

2700 S. Halsted
312-742-7529

A few months ago I was strolling through some of the city’s industrial areas, curious about what was still functioning, what was boarded up, and what had been reclaimed for new use—officially or otherwise. Walking south on Halsted, I passed old warehouses and weedy lots where homeless men were camped out; the smokestack of Pilsen’s coal-burning Fisk power plant poked into the sky a few blocks to the west, and the road crossed under dark, rusting railroad trestles. Cars roared overhead on I-55 … and then, suddenly, rolling green space.

I’d just stumbled on one of Chicago’s newest parks, built around an old limestone quarry in Bridgeport. After the quarry closed in 1970 it was used as a dump for construction debris; in 2004 the Park District began to convert it into recreational space, and it opened last year, with a total price tag of about $10 million.

People of all ages were out walking, riding bikes, jogging, and pushing strollers. Pathways that wind through the 27 acres of parkland, lots of which is covered with native prairie grasses and wildflowers. Nice enough—but the coolest part is in deeper. In the northwest corner of the park, hidden from the surrounding neighborhoods, are the limestone bluffs of the quarry, which drop from street level down to a pond populated by ducks and geese. Even when the rest of the park is bustling, people seem to approach this area with quiet awe, and with good reason: the scene would be impressive enough in the middle of a wildlife preserve, but in the center of a dense rust-belt city, it’s downright breathtaking.