McKinley Park: A Surprising Winter Wonderland

McKinley Park: A Surprising Winter Wonderland
William McKinley Statue at McKinley Park
It’s that horrible time of year again. It’s too cold and dreary to spend any meaningful time outside, but not cold enough to allow the snow and sledding that make wintertime fun. It’s easy to just relent and spend all of our free time watching movie marathons on cable or hiding our eyes while the Bears deteriorate right in front of us. Or you could, you know, get off your bum, go outside, and do something.  Let’s start at McKinley Park, between Damen and Western, 37th Street and Pershing. Why? It has something that actually makes being outside in the winter bearable: an ice-skating rink!

The rink is refrigerated, so even on the recent days that haven’t dipped below freezing, the rink is open for skating. (If McKinley Park is not convenient for you, but you like the idea of skating—for free—outside, you can visit one of the Chicago Park District’s other 5 rinks. Click here for more info.) We went on a dreary Sunday afternoon, and there were no more than ten people circling the well-maintained ice. Holiday music serenaded the skaters and they all looked much happier than the skaters at the oft-celebrated Millennium Park rink, where people can wait hours for their chance to essentially stand on the overcrowded ice. Whenever I watch people at that rink, their sharp skates shining in the lights, I can’t help but think that the scene is one overexcited skater away from becoming the most violent version of bumper cars to have ever been played. But instead, the skaters at McKinley Park looked as peaceful and graceful as Peggy Fleming landing a double-axel. (Except for you pre-teen boys in hockey skates. You looked very rugged and manly, I promise.)

In the middle of the park is a duck lagoon that has decks for fishing and bird-watching. We saw geese, mallards, coots, and some huge mystery bird that was alarmingly unafraid of people. It looked like a turkey with webbed feet. Let me know if you have any guesses as to what that creature is called.

More significantly, though, we saw a lot of goose poo.  A ton of it. I’m not sure what to do with that information, but I would have appreciated if someone had told me ahead of time not to wear my nice new boots. Folks: if you go to McKinley Park, don’t wear your nice new boots.

McKinley Park also has a lovely old Fieldhouse that’s a great place to come inside and warm up after a few laps on the ice rink. We talked to Chicago Park District employee Steve, who was really helpful in getting us information on all the activities of the park, and confirmed that CPD employees are among the nicest, most helpful people in this city. Seriously, after talking with these people, it’s clear that the characters in Parks and Recreation are not exaggerated. Parks employees are legitimately, and appropriately, enthusiastic about their jobs. Don’t be afraid to ask for their help.

The park also has a mediocre tot lot, which is a good stopover if you have a little kid, but doesn’t have any of the playground equipment that older kids can play on. (Okay okay…or the playground equipment that twenty-something bloggers want to play on.) There is also a friendly basketball court that we saw both kids and adults dribbling on.

In short, McKinley Park is a great choice for those cooler, dreary winter days where you just cannot fathom one more minute stuck inside. And, come on. Do America a favor, get out there and get some exercise.

For your convenience,here is a run-down of the pertinent info:

- McKinley Park Fieldhouse: 2210 W. Pershing Rd.

- Public skating hours: Wednesday-Sunday, 12:30pm-7:30pm; skate rentals are $

- Atmosphere: Clean (except for all the goose poo) and active

Filed under: Winter Activities

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    In the middle of the park is a duck lagoon that has decks for fishing and bird-watching. We saw geese, mallards, coots, and some huge mystery bird that was alarmingly unafraid of people. It looked like a turkey with webbed feet. Let me know if you have any guesses as to what that creature is called.

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