A few weeks ago I was on a lakefront run and had just passed Navy Pier headed northeast toward the Ohio Street Beach when I noticed a large gated entrance to what looked like a park. I have run by that same area, literally, hundreds of times and have never once noticed that gate or the park.
Last Friday the office closed early in observance of Good Friday. I took my running gear with me to work so I could take advantage of the early dismissal and get in a run before heading home. I decided it was time to see what was on the other side of that gate!
It turned out to be the Pfc. Milton Olive Park, named after a Vietnam war hero who was the first African American to receive the Medal of Honor for actions in Vietnam. I’ve actually seen a sign for the park every day on my walk to the office but thought it was the name of a different park off of Illinois Street.
I was pleasantly surprised at what I found! It was probably the best place I have seen in the city for a lakefront picnic. It’s got tables right on the water, a big grassy lawn, and a great view of the skyline, as well as Navy Pier. But it’s far enough away from Lake Shore Drive that you don’t get the traffic noise, so it’s very peaceful.
It’s not a great running park since it’s not that big. There’s one main pathway on the western edge, along the water, that is only about a quarter mile long. I expected to get to the end of that path then turn right (east) and run along the north side of the peninsula. But when I turned, only a few hundred feet away there was another large gate connected to a tall, cement wall blocking off where a large water filtration plant is located. You have to turn around at that point.
Between the brick wall and the path along the water, there are five large, circular reflective ponds or fountains — I couldn’t really tell since they were still dry for the winter months — all connected with walkways between them. I decided to run around each of the five water circles to get in a little more mileage. After getting a little dizzy running in circles I continued on, back to the path.
Even though it’s not a place I would likely go back to for a run, I’d like to go back there at some point for a picnic. It’s also a place I would recommend to Navy Pier visitors if they wanted to have a quiet picnic lunch as opposed to the loud and crazy food court on the pier or waiting more than an hour for a table at one of the sit down restaurants.
This little find is exactly why lacing up the running shoes is the best way to explore places. You never know what hidden gems you may find that would have gone unnoticed from a car window.