Edward L. Ryerson Welcome Center

21950 North Riverwoods Road
Riverwoods,IL 60015
565 acres

Edward L. Ryerson Welcome Center

Hours: 9 am–5 pm, Tuesday–Saturday; 11 am–4 pm, Sundays; restroom only, Mondays.

Holiday Closures

The Welcome Center is closed for New Year's Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day and the Friday after Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design

Platinum LEED Certified

The building employs a number of sustainable strategies, from material choices to the use of natural light, geothermal heating and cooling, and recycled rainwater. Learn more »

Certified at the highest level by the U.S Green Building Council, this Platinum LEED building offers both environmental and financial benefits over time. Here are just a few:

  • Total utility bill is a fraction of the cost of that of a standard building of the same size.
  • Because the water won’t puddle, we expect the porous asphalt parking lot to weather longer than standard paving.
  • Metal roof should last at least 50 years, unlike a shingled roof which typically lasts 15–20 years.
  • After just eight years, the geoexchange system will have paid for itself in energy savings.

Storm Water Management

Responsible rainwater management was a top priority when we designed the Welcome Center at Ryerson Woods. Planned as a model of green architecture, the site makes use of several innovative, environmentally friendly strategies for resource management. A three-pronged approach helps keep storm water at the site from becoming floodwater. Learn more »

Strategy 1: Collect It

Beneath the Welcome Center lies a swimming-pool-sized cistern, a cement tank that holds rainwater collected from the rooftop. Pipes connect the roof gutters to the cistern, which stores up to 60,000 gallons of rainwater for the fire protection sprinkler system. The harvested rainwater is wise insurance in case of fire, but we realized it could also be tapped for another, more mundane purpose: flushing our public toilets.

Strategy 2: Store It

Hard surfaces of parking lots usually redirect rain into catch basins or storm sewers. We wanted to be innovative with our parking lot. After researching many options that would allow water to flow through the surface, not over it, we chose porous asphalt for the surface of the parking lot.

Though the look of the surface is similar to standard asphalt, the recipe for the asphalt is significantly different. Standard asphalt is a mixture of a black gooey liquid, small rocks and particles of sand, grit and dust. These tiny particles help to bind the mixture together after it is laid and rolled. Recipes for porous asphalt read differently: thoroughly wash gravel, mix with black gooey liquid, roll lightly. The result is asphalt that contains small spaces between the gravel pieces. These spaces are large enough to allow water to flow through. Water from rain and melted snow doesn’t puddle on the surface, it simply disappears.

Strategy 3: Absorb It

Two rain gardens handle any remaining storm water. Each rain garden has a depression that collects rainwater from the roof of the building. Before planting, the soil in the rain gardens was modified to drain quickly. Water seldom sits more than 36 hours in the rain garden before it is absorbed. The gardens are planted with native palnts that are adapted to thrive in great variety of weather conditions in northern Illinois. Consequently, they require no special treatment. Their blossoms add color to the gardens starting in spring and ending in late autumn. The butterflies and birds that come to visit are an added bonus.

Part of what makes these approaches so successful is that they allow nature's processes to take care of the natural ebb and flow of the water cycle. Our long-time goal is to manage land along the Des Plaines River. Backwater areas and wetlands near the river help to hold excess water. When the river level lowers, the wetlands slowly release the water back into the stream, often in a more pure state. Restored wetlands throughout the county are efficient at water storage. Not only can these habitats help to reduce local flooding, but they also help to recharge the groundwater aquifer. This is good news for areas of Lake County that rely on wells for drinking water.

Making Waves

A seismic recording station is installed at Ryerson to help research scientists gain a better understanding of our planet’s structure and processes. It's one of 2,000 USArray stations installed across the country as part of the National Science Foundation’s EarthScope initiative. 

View recorded activity online at Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology.

Saying Goodbye to Our Education Red-Tailed Hawk

Our resident education red-tailed hawk passed away on May 7, 2021. She was one of the oldest red-tailed hawks on record and a true education ambassador.

She lived her life at Ryerson Conservation Area in Riverwoods and inspired more than 500,000 visitors. This is a difficult loss for the education staff who worked with her, for our volunteers, and for our visitors. Her legacy will live forever in the more than half a million people she inspired.

Read more about her in an interactive story map.


Active Projects | Ryerson Woods Education Center

Ryerson Master Plan in Progress

As stewards of healthy landscape and proponents of climate resiliency, the Lake County Forest Preserves Board approved construction contracts for a new net-zero education center at the Edward L. Ryerson Conservation Area. Construction is scheduled to begin in early summer 2022 with an estimated summer 2023 public opening.

A net-zero building produces enough renewable energy to meet its own annual energy consumption requirements, reducing the use of nonrenewable energy. The building uses cost-effective measures to reduce energy usage. Featured components and building materials chosen to meet net-zero energy building requirements include:

  • A 23.8kW system of rooftop solar panels, a similar size to what is found on a home or small business
  • HVAC systems and mechanical equipment with the highest efficiency ratings
  • Increased insulation values in the walls and roof
  • Strategic placement of high-performing windows to help regulate temperature
  • LED lighting throughout the building
  • Occupancy sensors in rooms and daylight sensors in perimeter spaces
  • EPA Indoor Air Plus requirements for paint and materials
  • Bird-friendly glass windows to help reduce bird strikes

“We want to raise the bar and set the example when it comes to green buildings and environmental sustainability. Our goal is that this new building will become a viable model of long-lasting energy-efficient design,” said Alex Ty Kovach, executive director of the Lake County Forest Preserves.

Ryerson Woods has been a center of the Forest Preserves environmental education and programming since it was acquired in 1972. Programs offered here are based on nature and the environment and are designed for all ages. When the new facility is complete, it will replace aging classroom cabins that currently host thousands of school children each year and become the first public building in Lake County to gain net-zero certification through the passive house institute.

This project is made possible by a grant from Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, support from Medline Industries, private donations and the support of Lake County residents.

Questions or Comments? Contact Director of Planning and Land Preservation Randy Seebach at 847-968-3262 or via email: Ryerson@LCFPD.org



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More About This Facility

Educational Opportunities

A variety of public programs and field trips for school and scout groups are offered here throughout the year.

Ryerson also hosts popular annual events like Maple Syrup Hikes, Celebrate Spring, Celebrate Fall, and Halloween Hikes. Stop in at the Welcome Center for a calendar of events and programs, or subscribe to Horizons, our free quarterly magazine. You can also read it online.

Explore Backpacks

Borrow our nature themed backpacks filled with activities for families with children up to 10 years old to help you learn as you explore. The packs are free to use while in the preserve and can be checked out at the Welcome Center. A driver's license is held as deposit. Choose from four themes: plants, farm, birds, and nature.


The close inter-relationship of humans and nature at Ryerson Woods is plainly evident in the form and function of the Welcome Center. Designed as a model of green architecture, the building was added to the site in 2006 with minimal impact on the preserve’s environment and ecology.


The Welcome Center is located within Ryerson Woods.

The entrance is on Riverwoods Road between Half Day Road (Route 22) and Deerfield Road, just west of the Interstate 94 Tollway. Follow signs to the Welcome Center.