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What we do International Dark Sky Places

Palos Preserves

Image depicting the Urban Night Sky Place at night overlooking Maple Lake.
Maple Lake Vista within the Palos Preserves basking underneath a starry sky. Photo credit: Joe Occhiuzzo.


The Forest Preserve District of Cook County (the “Forest Preserves”) is one of our nation’s oldest and largest conservation districts containing nearly 70,000 acres of managed land. Over the 106 years of its existence, the population of the nearby Chicago Area has nearly tripled from 2.7 to 8 million people. In that time, the percentage of area consumed by urban land use has multiplied from 6% to over 35%. Today, the Forest Preserves manages lands that preserve some of the best examples of Illinois’ natural and cultural heritage. These lands harbor remarkable plant and animal diversity and offer urban and suburban residents and visitors opportunities to explore nature, recreate, as well as a chance experience solitude and quiet. Each year the Preserves receive an estimated 62 million visits, a testament to how closely intertwined people are with nature. The District is also an area in the northeastern region of Illinois that currently has some of the best views of the night sky, with average values of 18.31 magnitudes / arcsecond2 – a 1.5 magnitude improvement over night sky readings within the city of Chicago.

The area within the Palos Preserves, historically referred to as Mt. Forest Island, is a 6,662 acre (26.96 km2) area of the Cook County Forest Preserves just 24km from downtown Chicago. The Forest Preserves– and particularly the Palos Preserves – have become a local natural laboratory for our real-world connection to the night. The certification of this Urban Night Sky Place will also be instrumental in providing an opportunity to promote the resource of the nighttime environment to those who need it most. External partners such as the Adler Planetarium and the Audubon Society have shared expertise and leveraged resources to help create the Palos Preserves as a model for this region and beyond. As such, the UNSP designation celebrates and amplifies the importance of dark skies for the benefit of human and natural communities.




Urban Night Sky Place


9800 Willow Springs Rd
Willow Springs, IL 60480
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Mary Busch

Land Area

27.3 km2


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Annual Reports