Constable: Ranking rains on parade, but spring still in Naperville's step
On Tuesday's beautiful spring day, there might not be a better place to be than strolling the Naperville Riverwalk with someone you love.
Oh, wait. Strike that. According to a LawnStarter's just released listing of "Best Cities for Spring Outdoor Activity," there are 199 better places than Naperville. The listing among the 200 biggest U.S. cities, based on 17 key factors, such as public gardens, trails, walkability and the amount of spring sunshine, placed Naperville dead last, just behind Olathe, Kansas.
California, with San Francisco named the best spring city, has 24 cities in the ranking before Illinois cracks the list with Chicago at 59th. Aurora checks in at 157th, Rockford at 165th and Joliet at 191st.
Granted, March gave us some below-freezing temperatures until lately, but Naperville expects better. This is a city used to faring quite well in city rankings. Last year, as it has for the past several years, Naperville ranked No. 1 on Niche.com's 2020 list of Best Cities to Raise a Family in America, and also nailed the top spot in the listing of Cities with the Best Public Schools in America. Naperville also ranked 7th on Interest.com's list of Top 15 Cities for Jobs After Graduation in 2020.
Finishing last isn't only a shock, it just doesn't make sense to Adam Carlson, senior ranger with the DuPage County Forest Preserve.
"Spring is my Super Bowl in that I get really excited seeing the short-lived beauty of spring ephemerals," Carlson says, naming the graceful trout lily, the stunning mayapple flower, or the clusters of lavender-blue, bell-shaped flowers on Virginia bluebells that can be found soon in the Greene Valley Forest Preserve in Naperville. In addition to seeing 540 varieties of native plants growing in those 1,388 acres, visitors can see the Chicago skyline in the distance.
Migratory birds are another spring staple, with large sandhill cranes, majestic bald eagles or the "goofy-looking" woodcock, says Carlson. The male woodcock has a courting flight that includes buzzing peent sounds and a wild zigzagging flight that ends with the bird plummeting toward the ground before pulling out of the plunge and softly fluttering to a safe landing.
Chicago Wilderness, a regional alliance of more than 200 public, private and corporate organizations that work to restore nature, recently awarded the DuPage County Forest Preserve District its platinum Excellence in Ecological Restoration Award for transforming the 1,829-acre Springbrook Prairie Forest Preserve in Naperville. The grassland habitat is home to birds, including the state-endangered northern harriers, state-threatened barn owls, short-eared owls, dickcissels, grasshopper sparrows, bobolinks, black rails, king rails, upland sandpipers, Wilson's phalaropes, American and least bitterns, black terns, common gallinules and black-billed cuckoos.
Egrets, great blue herons, Cooper's hawks and eastern bluebirds hang out in the 465-acre McDowell Grove Forest Preserve in Naperville, which has seven miles of trails, fishing and picnic shelters.
The rankings have a lot to do with climate, says Jeff Herman, managing editor of LawnStarter.com, noting Naperville ranked 181st in average spring temperature and had too many cold and cloudy days to move out of the lowest spot. Instead of one of those early springs marking the end of winter, Naperville sometimes has late springs announcing the arrival of summer.
Having grown up on a farm near St. Louis and worked for Indiana newspapers before moving to Dallas and the managing editor post at LawnStarter, Herman says he has no personal complaints against Naperville.
"It looks like there are tons of things to do in Naperville," Herman says, noting he saw photos of the city online. "The Riverwalk looks fantastic."
While Herman stands by the metrics that placed the suburb at the bottom, he urges proud Napervillians to keep the faith.
"I understand that pride," Herman says. "My guess is that Naperville will do better in the summer and fall rankings."