North Park Village Nature Center

5801 N. Pulaski

Deer have become so plentiful around these parts they’ve achieved the status of pest, but it’s still a thrill to come upon a majestic eight-point buck standing stock still in a forest—and I’ve seen him at the North Park Village Nature Center, a sylvan retreat on the northwest side near Peterson and Pulaski. The spacious 46-acre preserve run by the Park District has two and a half miles of trails winding through several native Illinois ecosystems, including an oak savannah and a wetland. My husband, Rick Mosher, has spent the last decade attempting to document the preserve’s moth population, and during his nocturnal rambles has stumbled on raccoons, skunks, snakes, bullfrogs, and the occasional flying squirrel.

Rick’s rig consists of a white bedsheet hung on a clothesline between two trees. Lit by a mercury vapor lamp, the sheet becomes a beacon to hundreds of moths, which apparently mistake it for the moon. Every year has revealed more species and new surprises. Once he spotted a black witch (Ascalapha odorata), one of the largest moths in the western hemisphere and more commonly found in warmer climes. In addition to a charming diorama by the moth collector, attractions inside the center’s education building include a glass-walled beehive and a petting zoo of bones, teeth, hides, and hooves. Cast an eye west of the building to spot the moth-catching setup. The nature center’s open 10 AM-4 PM daily, except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, and it’s free.