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Sloth: Island idling

When you're feeling lazy, the best way to traverse the city is to not walk at all.

By Jonathan Messinger |
Map: Peter Hoey

TIME 45 minutes
START Museum Campus
FINISH Museum Campus

If you want to embrace your inner sloth but still catch the occasional sun ray, Roger Rickshaw (773-620-7921) will ride to your rescue. Roger Brownworth has been running the pedicab company for about seven years, and you can relax in the rig’s comfy seat while he tugs you around on the attached bike. Brownworth offers a variety of tours, most running about $75. We opt for his Northerly Island jaunt, because the island is about two miles around and, well, there’s no way we’re walking all of that.

LAZY DAISY Okay, so they’re sunflowers, growing at the former Meigs Field airstrip.
Photo: Andrew Nawrocki

After hopping on the pedicab at Buckingham Fountain (Grant Park, at Columbus Drive and Congress Parkway), you enter the museum campus from the north at East Solitary and South Lynn White Drives—getting a full view of the The Field Museum and Shedd Aquarium. Brownworth, a surprisingly cheerful guy considering how hard he’s working, calls the hill up to the Shedd “the Moneymaker, because everyone sees you earn your money on the way to the top.” Smile for the gaping pedestrians as your pedicab navigates the bike path toward Adler Planetarium, and nod hello to the helmeted Segway tourists, who think they’ve found the laziest way to see the city. Don’t wave; they might fall and hurt themselves.

As you enter Northerly Island proper, check out the rickshaw’s-eye view of Charter One Pavilion (1300 S Lynn White Dr, 312-745-2910), the 7,500-seat ampitheater to your left. The “temporary” venue was controversial when erected, because the conversion of the Meigs Field airstrip into a public park was supposed to create an open landscape. It still looks like leftover state fairgrounds, but nobody’s complaining now that the Allman Brothers finally have the outdoor arena they’ve always longed for within the city limits. Continue past COP and enter the more egalitarian section of the park. The paved southern path takes you through the open land to your left, while prairie wildflowers sprout on your right.

TERMINAL IS RIGHT The Meigs Field Terminal, on the western shore of the island, saw its last passenger in 2003.
Photo: Andrew Nawrocki

On your left lies a wide-open field, also known as the Meigs Field airstrip graveyard. Once a private airport for Springfield politicians and the city’s elite, Meigs got a major makeover courtesy of Mayor Daley in 2003. The airstrip’s lease with the Park District was up, and Daley didn’t like those planes flying so close to the city’s skyline, so he sent bulldozers to tear up the runway at 1:30am. The squat former terminal building you see to your right now houses the Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation Center (1400 S Lynn White Dr, 847-602-0628), where little hurty birdies go to get better. For now, the center of the island remains a free and clear lakefront. But there’s no chance it’ll stay that way if Chicago wins the 2016 Summer Olympics bid; the island would become home base for rowing and canoeing events.

WASHED UP Meigs Field’s control tower has architectural charm, even if it’s now useless.
Photo: Andrew Nawrocki

As you pass the terminal building, you’ll come upon the old control tower to your right. Whereas the terminal looks like a nondescript 1960s high-school building, the 1952 tower retains some Mies-esque architectural charm. Farther on, you’ll see McCormick Place (2301 S Lake Shore Dr, 312-791-7000) on your right and, if Roger takes you on your ride before the harbor is clear for winter, you’ll also spy “the Battered Bull,” a 172-foot yacht anchored in Burnham Harbor. Continue south past the man-made waterfalls on the eastern edge of McCormick Place to the island’s southern tip. The jagged rocks dipping into the lake would be an ideal place for fishing, if fishing weren’t so much work. But it’s the phenomenal vista of the South Shore and the South Side steel mills (where people actually work) that makes the spot so alluring.

Exhausted from sitting? Head back north along the easternmost path for a spectacular skyline view. As you cruise, note the tiny village of birdhouses to your right sticking out of the prairie grass. Purple martins nest in the houses, and Brownworth says the martins used to make their own nests in the various corners of the island. “They rely on man-made houses now. If we didn’t build them, they’d be endangered. People also have to take down the houses and clean them out every year.” A bird that won’t clean up after itself? That’s an animal after our own heart.

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Stop by 12th Street Beach, just east of Charter One Pavilion and south of Adler Planetarium. Compared to nearby Oak Street Beach, this one’s fairly uncrowded, and though it may be too cold for a swim now, you can at least lounge around, unperturbed in your laziness.

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