A Walk Around Fort Sheridan

It’s been over a month since I’ve published a post. I’d like to say it’s because I’ve been gallivanting around the world to places with limited internet capabilities and soaking up life lessons while appreciating the small and seemingly insignificant moments that collectively define a life. But that’s not the case. Nonetheless, we’re doing okay – busy with work, extra-curricular activities, and knee-deep in the adventure of hybrid learning. But the effects of the pandemic are noticeable and life is far from normal. In hopes to gain some clarity and fresh air, I carved out some time in my work schedule and spent about a little over an hour walking around Fort Sheridan this morning. And while marveling at the vibrant colors, I couldn’t help but think that Oscar Wilde was right – all at once, summer somehow collapsed into fall.

Openlands Lakeshore Preserve

Not many in the Army are familiar with Fort Sheridan and we were met with many blank stares when people asked where we were PCSing. The main post closed in 1993 and the majority of the land was sold to commercial land developers, with the government only keeping 90 acres – which is now home to the Sheridan Reserve Center and a collection of military housing maintained by Naval Station Great Lakes. It does feel like one of the Army’s best kept secrets – the ability to live on Lake Michigan surrounded by a walkable community with fantastic restaurants and bars? Heck yes!

Fort Sheridan military housing

My walk started at our house – I was standing on the walkway to our front door when I snapped this picture. Having trail access and the ability to hike/walk without needing to drive is very important to us so we were thrilled to discover that miles of both walking and biking trails are accessible from Fort Sheridan. The pandemic has only solidified the idea that having such access is imperative to our quality of life. As you can see, our house is not on the water but pretty darn close. Again – this Army family will take what we can get in regards to living on water!

openlands lakeshore preserve

About a half-mile walk from our house is access to the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve. Committed to connecting people to nature where they live, Openlands acquired the unprotected acres of ravines, bluffs, and lakeshore on the south end of post in the years following the closure of Fort Sheridan, eventually opening the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve in 2011.

openlands lakeshore preserve

There are multiple ways to get to the Town of Fort Sheridan (yup – the Army sold one of their most beautiful installations to commercial developers, who turned it into an award wining gorgeous neighborhood that maintains and celebrates its history – more on that later) but the path through the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve is by far the prettiest.

openlands lakeshore preserve

Fort Sheridan is about 8 miles south of Naval Station Great Lakes, which means this stretch of Lake Michigan has a rich military history. The Navy chose Lake Michigan as an aircraft training site during World War II because the inland lake was protected from an Axis attack. In fact, more than 100 fighter plans crashed and sank to the bottom of Lake Michigan between 1942 and 1944. And today, Naval Station Great Lakes is home to the Navy’s boot camp and is the largest training installation in the Navy.

town of Fort Sheridan

But back to Fort Sheridan. Established in 1887 as Camp Highwood a result of the Haymarket Riot – Fort Sheridan has questionable beginnings. Renamed Fort Sheridan in 1888 after General of the Army Philip H. Sheridan upon his death, the post allowed the US Army to act as regional police race to subdue worker uprisings in Chicago, such as when President Grover Cleveland ordered troops from Fort Sheridan to ‘restore peace and order’ in Chicago’s Union Stock Yards.

General Sheridan statue

During the Spanish American War, Fort Sheridan became known as a cavalry post but in the years leading up to World War I, General Leonard Wood increased levels of reserve training and Fort Sheridan served as the United States’ first Reserve Officers Training Center (ROTC). During World War II, Fort Sheridan was one of four Recruit Reception Centers in the United States and headquarters for prisoner of war camps in Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin, with many incarcerated on post.

Fort Sheridan

During the Korean War and the Vietnam War, Fort Sheridan was a reception and processing center for the military. It also served as the logistical support for Nike-Hercules missile sites throughout the United States. Fort Sheridan was among the first Army posts to be closed during the initial round of military base closures in 1990 but served as a training site during Desert Shield and Desert Storm until the official closure in 1993.

Fort Sheridan

Upon Fort Sheridan’s closing, the majority of the installation was sold to commercial land developers, who thankfully refurbished the original residences and resold them. As a result, Fort Sheridan is home to some of the most beautiful houses in the area. The actual neighborhood is a mix of refurbished military housing and new(er) homes built after the military sold the land. When walking around Fort Sheridan, Clay and I lament how we’d be living in one original military homes situated in the area designated as a National Historic Landmark if only the Army hadn’t let it go. Typical Army, right? Our new housing is fine but we’re suckers for historic homes.

Sheridan Water Tower

Designed after St. Mark’s Campanile in Venice, Italy, the Fort Sheridan water tower is part of the original barracks complex that have since been converted into townhomes. It was one of the tallest buildings in Illinois upon its completion in 1891 and is considered the most well-known landmark of Fort Sheridan.

Fort Sheridan main gate

This iron gate served as the main entrance to Fort Sheridan from the 1930s to the 1990s.

openlands lakeshore preserve

The Openlands Lakeshore Preserve has multiple entrance points throughout Fort Sheridan. Openlands believes that art helps connect people to nature and as a result, there are murals and sculptures throughout the landscape.

openlands lakeshore preserve

One of my favorites.

openlands lakeshore preserve

It is a little over a mile walk back to our house from the famed Fort Sheridan water tower. Lucky for us, the majority of the walk is along the sparkling turquoise water of Lake Michigan. I walked a little over 5 miles this morning. I was able to experience the solitude I craved and allow myself to bathe in crisp air. The following Henry David Thoreau quote came to me throughout my walk in the explosion of colors:

As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.

Everything is going to be okay.

Stand Up Paddle Boarding on Lake Michigan

We spent the weekend paddling on Lake Michigan. The path from our house to the beach is down a fairly significant hill, which makes it near impossible to put our kayaks in the water within walking distance, which we were able to do on Lake Ontario during our time at Fort Drum – womp womp. However we have two inflatable stand-up paddle boards that have proved to be perfect for our current situation (SereneLife and ROC). We carry them in backpacks up and down the hill and inflate them on the shore. When the water is calm, we use them as stand-up paddle boards and when the water is choppier, we treat them like kayaks. Our long-term goal is to get each kid their own paddle board but for the time being, Clay and I can each comfortably have a kid on the board with us so we’ve been able to cover some ground in the waters along the North Shore of Chicago as a family.

stand up paddle boarding lake Michigan Fort Sheridan

The water was incredibly calm yesterday morning. The sparkling turquoise water was the perfect antidote to the uncertainty and anxiety that has been churning inside for quite some time. Despite reciting my mantra of everything will be okay continuously the past few weeks, my mind would find itself being lured into the dark spaces where doubt, apprehension, and hopelessness have been banished. And as much as I don’t want to retreat into my own little world when so many horrible things are happening in our country, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to find the bandwidth to take it all on after tending to my own family’s needs during this dumpster fire of a year.

stand up paddle boarding lake Michigan Fort Sheridan

Deciding what to do about the kids’ education dominated the majority of my headspace this month. I reconciled the idea that homeschooling may be the best option for our family but we ultimately decided to enroll the kids in the public school system, which has a stellar reputation and the opportunity for students to attend school in-person for a couple of hours each day. Only time will tell if the hybrid-model is sustainable through the fall and winter but we felt it was worth it to give it a chance. And if we find that it isn’t working for our family, we will likely make the switch to homeschooling and persevere with grit and determination. I think once I gave myself grace and the power to change my mind, I became much more at peace with our decision. It’s easy to twist my insides into knots when it comes to our children but time and time again they’ve proved themselves to be resilient – they will be okay. Everything will be okay.

stand up paddle boarding lake Michigan Fort Sheridan

2020 has proved to be anything but ordinary, so I think it’s important to fight my initial instinct to make everything feel ‘normal’ for my children. Because that’s not how life works. We adjust. We adapt. And we push forward. We’re thankful that we were able to sign them up for soccer and baseball this fall, even though the season will look very different than what they’ve experienced in the past. And that’s okay. I’ve vowed to stop asking myself, “How can I make this feel more like normal?” and instead I’ve been asking, “How can I make this better than before?

stand up paddle boarding lake Michigan Fort Sheridan

Leonardo DiVinci told us that water is the driving force of all nature. Not only can water carve its way through stone, but it makes a new path if it deems necessary. I am so incredibly thankful that this assignment will allow us to spend time on the water and embrace its power. There is a sense of freedom when we’re paddling in the water – we’re focused on the horizon and maintaining balance while appreciating the vast beauty. Every paddle is different than the one before – new water, new movement, and new insight.  Our family is craving the routine that a new school year brings – we look forward to the challenges on the horizon. And we will continue to carve our way through 2020 and should we find that the path we’re one is impassable, we will make a new one.