Lake Katherine Nature Center’s very presence owes itself to the geological and industrial past of this area. The Cal- Sag canal to the north of the center was excavated in 1911 to 1922 in part due to the fact it was once part of a low spot that was called Calumet-Saganashkee valley. This low area was part of the Chicago outlet, one of two water channels that drained Lake Chicago (an early version of Lake Michigan) through the moraines that lie to the west of Lake Katherine.
Building the Canal
The low area between the moraines was a convenient and profitable location for a canal to be built, connecting Lake Michigan and the Des Plaines River and therefore connecting industry from the Great Lakes watershed and the Mississippi river basin.
The bedrock that was excavated during the canal building process is mostly made up of dolomite limestone. This material was placed along the canal banks, covering the previous vegetation and ecosystems. This overburden is what makes up the hills that line most of banks along the entire canal.
There were two reasons for this: leaving debris was convenient and cost effective, the other was to help shield the barges of coal and other industrial products from being seen by communities nearby. The hills and canal are still present and are a key part of the anthropological landscape that make up Lake Katherine. In other words, a landscape that is an outcome of the combination of human and natural works.
The immediate area along the canal became Lake Katherine was somewhat forgotten. On its southern edge a gun club was established and ran from 1938 until it was closed in 1986 and moved to Frankfurt. The Lake Katherine site itself had become an unofficial dump/spoil site, until the late Mayor Eugene Simpson crafted an idea in the late 1980s of creating a nature center based on the north woods.
His plans materialized through the City of Palos Heights on land leased from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Chicago (MWRD own much of the Cal-Sag edge). The former gun club structure was moved in 1989 from its original location to its current location on the grounds of Lake Katherine and was originally intended to be the nature center. Another building was built instead to house the nature center and the gun club became known as the clubhouse, which is primary used for event rentals.
Creation of Lake Katherine Nature Center
In 2005 Lake Katherine Nature Center and Botanic Garden was created as a nonprofit, and entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the City of Palos Heights. This enabled Lake Katherine to accept donations and possibly more importantly, move towards management of the site focusing on Midwestern ecological management, environment education, and outdoor recreation.
25 Years Later
It has been over 25 years since the idea of Lake Katherine was born. Although there have been changes throughout this time, the central idea of having a community nature center has not. As we move forward, our goals remain focused on restoration of the site, public environmental education, inclusivity, outdoor recreation and to create a landscape where everyone can come to connect with nature.