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The Short Version: Many couples share a love of nature, and a trip to the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in the heart of Chicago is an ideal date spot for those eco-enthusiasts. Exotic birds and butterflies mesmerize visitors, and you can even volunteer in one of the museum’s Citizen Science Programs. If you’re in the Windy City, you’ll want to put a visit to the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum on your itinerary.
I once spent an afternoon with a man who was a naturalist by trade. He was running a nature tour on the nearby river when I lived in Florida. As a newspaper journalist covering the environment, I met up with him to explore a nearby hiking trail that was part of the property where he was based. As we walked along the wooden path, he was able to identify the name of every butterfly that fluttered past, show me bird nests hidden to my untrained eye, and talk with me about what it meant to be a citizen scientist.
I found it fascinating, and, years later, I still remember that day as I walk trails with men on dates. I’m always impressed when they’re able to tell me things about nature that I never knew. It’s also fun to visit museums on dates so we can learn together. I’m always looking for someone who shares my passion for nature and the outdoors.
In the Chicago area, residents and visitors have a perfect place to help them connect on that level: the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. Butterflies dance overhead at the museum’s Judy Istock Butterfly Haven, and the building is filled with hands-on learning experiences, nature-inspired art, and so much more.
The organization also has a long history of contributing to nature studies in the Midwest, said Marketing Manager John Bannon.
“Today, we continue that legacy at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, which is the public face of the Chicago Academy of Sciences. We connect the community with the wonders of our natural world through immersive exhibits and experiences, public programming, education initiatives, conservation work, and citizen science projects,” he said.
The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is the educational arm of the Chicago Academy of Sciences, which was established in 1857. That makes it the oldest museum in Chicago and the first museum in the West.
“We were established so that nature aficionados and scientists alike could share specimens and study flora and fauna around them,” John said.
By 1870, the Chicago Academy of Sciences had one of the most extensive natural history museum collections in the nation, but the Great Fire of 1871 caused significant destruction to the Academy — as well as to the entire city of Chicago. Everything in the museum was destroyed, but dedicated citizen scientists immediately started to rebuild the collection.
They built a home for the museum in Lincoln Park, with the Chicago Academy of Sciences serving as the cornerstone of scientific education in the region. The new museum was renamed to honor Peggy Notebaert, a major financial contributor.
The most popular — and romantic, in my opinion — stop at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven.
“It’s a tropical greenhouse teeming with more than a thousand beautiful, fluttering butterflies along with exotic birds, flowers, and a waterfall,” John said. “Stepping into the Butterfly Haven is truly an immersive experience. It’s a great escape from the hustle of the city and, during the winter, a warm relief from the cold. Butterflies may land on you and will certainly fly around you.”
It’s a good idea to schedule a visit during the afternoon. Every day at 2 p.m., the museum staff releases newly emerged butterflies, which can be an excellent photo opportunity.
Overall, the museum houses more than 15 exhibits — including some that rotate throughout the year — to explore with a special someone. Check out exotic birds, art, and photography that engage visitors of all ages.
Most of the Nature Museum’s visitors are from nearby Chicago, but it’s a great place for couples who are passing through.
“Each year, we have visitors from every state in the country, but we primarily serve a local, Chicago audience. Groups of all ages visit the museum,” John said.
The museum is much more than exhibits and displays. Citizen science is a big part of the museum’s history, but it’s just as important today. Through the museum, couples and families can get involved with many different research projects.
If you or your significant other have an affinity for frogs, you can sign up for the Calling Frog Survey to help local scientists monitor the populations of cricket frogs and other amphibians in the Chicago region.
If you’re more passionate about butterflies, help monitor the population around you by joining the Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network. This award-winning program was created in 1987 and has more than 100 monitoring sites. Volunteers can train to learn more about butterflies — including identification methods that could come in handy on your next romantic hike.
Another study that couples can participate in is the Illinois Odonate Survey — that’s dragonflies and damselflies. Then next time you see a dragonfly, you can help scientists learn more about the population.
Since the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is close to nearly everything Chicago has to offer, a trip is a great way to start any date night. Afterward, you can wander over to a nearby café or restaurant to talk about what you’ve learned.
“We are situated in the heart of Lincoln Park, on the picturesque North Pond nature sanctuary. Surrounded by nature trails and a block from Lake Michigan, we’re a great jumping off point for a day enjoying some of the best outdoor experiences the city has to offer,” John said.
A nature museum might not be the first idea someone would have for a date — but that makes it even better.
“This is a great change from the typical. Learning together and sharing new experiences is a great way to get to know someone,” John added.
An intellectually stimulating experience can even give you an opportunity to impress that special someone. Study up on the names of butterflies and birds before you go on your next hike, and you’ll be sure to put a smile on your date’s face.