The Nature Study Area and Observatory on Moraine Valley Community College’s campus serves as a “living museum” of the earth for students and visitors. The 40-acre reconstructed tall grass prairie is a relic of the days when it was inhabited by Native Americans. The area is home to great blue heron, colorful mallards, schools of bass and bluegill, hundreds of plants and grasses, a 1.8-billion-year-old granite rock, and coyote.
Moraine Valley’s Nature Study Area is geologically unique. It is one of the few places in Cook County, Illinois, where visitors can see the three beach levels of old Lake Chicago (which receded to what is now Lake Michigan). Ten thousand years ago, Moraine Valley’s campus would have been under 40 feet of water as the shores of Lake Chicago used to wash up on the beach where Kean Avenue is currently located.
The college’s Nature Study Area also serves as an outdoor laboratory for faculty to take their students for fieldwork in biology, botany, geology, earth science and environmental science. Students explore birds, animals and plant life in their natural environment and learn firsthand about water and soil testing. In addition to the prairie, the area contains two ponds and oak savanna (with a 100-year-old bur oak tree). The pond, established in 1977, is 16-feet deep at the center and is fed by 11 springs, one of which is Sullivan Spring.
The area includes an observatory. A 6 1/2-foot Newtonian reflecting telescope, built and donated by Tom McCague, retired associate professor and department chair of Biology, is housed in a dome on the G. Jack Bradley Observation Deck. The college hosts monthly open viewing nights for the public during the spring, summer and fall months.
Founded in 1974 by college faculty Bob Juracka and Dick Finley, the Moraine Valley Nature Study Area is a vital resource for Natural Science, Earth Science and Biological Science courses. The site is maintained, and site improvements are supported by, volunteer faculty team members Scott Murdoch, Jana Svec, and Krista Syrup, Gretchen Bernard, Karen Borgstrom. Public tours for all age groups are conducted seasonally upon request at (708) 974-5246.
The Nature Study Area also has a sundial, built and donated by retired professor Roger Carlsen, who is a blacksmith.
People of all ages enjoy the unique features of the Nature Study Area, and schools and community groups are invited to explore the plant and animal life. In addition, the telescope is used as a teaching tool, not only for Moraine Valley, but local schools and community groups as well.