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Monday, June 18, 2012

A visit to the Model Railroad Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden

Enjoying trains at the Chicago Botanic Garden's Model Railroad Garden

With another weekend in the history books, I'm uploading pictures from our Sunday afternoon adventures. Yet again trains figured prominently in our activities. With a six year old son, a three-year old daughter and a 10-month old boy, railroad-themed activities are always a big hit with our family. Our kids aren't alone in this fascination, of course. I often compare notes on best train-related destinations with other families. So, it seemed worthwhile to chronicle some of our more noteworthy rail adventures.

In honor of Fathers' Day, we wanted to do a special family outing. In past years, we have journeyed out to Union, Illinois for a day at the Illinois Railway Museum. We were up for a new adventure this year, so I checked out a free parking pass for the Chicago Botanic Garden from our library. My husband and I got engaged at the Botanic Garden, so it's special to us, but they've added a Model Railroad Garden in recent years, which was the draw for the little folks.

Corn Palace
Honestly, I thought it would simply be a train or two running past various plants. That would have been acceptable to the kids and, since we were getting in for free, I wasn't too troubled by the few extra dollars for getting into the railroad garden. I'm pleased to report that it was so much more than any "simple" railroad display. The garden is 7,500 square feet and features 17 G-Scale trains - nothing small about that. Every good model train layout features a landscape and buildings, of course. This display showcases its natural setting by running the trains past meticulously-pruned plants, over willow bark bridges above visitors heads, and around buildings built almost entirely of natural materials. The buildings are miniature representations of various American landmarks, so there's an educational element to pointing out the Statue of Liberty, Mt. Rushmore and the like. The kids particularly liked the "Old Faithful" geyser that spouted every 60 seconds. I loved the representation of Mitchell, South Dakota's Corn Palace, which in its real-life form is already covered in natural materials every year.

As for the trains themselves. Erik, my 6-year old, loved the Amtrak, but all the red engines -- his favorite color -- pleased him, too. Anna liked a little ladybug-shaped trolley. William, who was missing a nap, was content to watch all the movement of the trains and enthusiastic visitors. (Strollers aren't allowed in the Model Railroad Garden, so I was happy we had the Ergo carrier. He was glad to see everything at eye-level.)

At almost 400 acres, there's plenty more to explore at the Botanic Garden. We took at peek at the Japanese, waterfall, rose and bonsai gardens. It was a hot day and young kids who aren't getting their "quiet time" can only handle so much walking. So further family exploring will have to wait for another day.

The Chicago Botanic Garden is in Glencoe, Illinois at 1000 Lake Cook Road. Admission is free but there is a charge for parking and some sites within the garden. 

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