Galewood’s Rutherford-Sayre Park, 6871 W. Belden Ave., was one of 20 parks that received small wooden fairy houses designed and built by kids in nearby communities, with the help of the Chicago Park District and the nonprofit Nature Conservancy of Illinois. 

The houses were a way to celebrate 20 years of collaboration between the park district and Nature Conservancy, which have been working together to reduce flooding on park land by planting native plants whose roots quickly and efficiently absorb rain water. 

There are currently 73 natural areas in Chicago parks. The southwestern, Galewood half of Rutherford-Sayre Park got that treatment a few years ago.

The fairy houses went up at the start of summer and are expected to be removed in the fall.

At Rutherford-Sayre, youth built the Faerie Chocolatier Ltd, “a chocolate factory run by fairies.” The young designers were inspired by the nearby Mars Chocolate’s North American plant, 2019 N. Oak Park Ave., and the Milwaukee District West Metra Line, which bisects the park. 

“These Natural Areas are sanctuaries of calm and relaxation in the bustle of the nation’s third-largest city, and the volunteers who care for them provide a priceless service by engaging with their communities this way,” said Forrest Cortes, director of community engagement at The Nature Conservancy in Illinois. “Nature not only nurtures; it also connects people in a very fundamental way.”

The 20 fairy houses were all built in natural areas of the city. Aside from Ruthorford-Sayre’s, West Side locations include Columbus Park, 500 S. Central Ave. and Garfield Park, 300 N. Central Park Ave.

Tom Drebenstedt is a member of Rutherford-Sayre’s Park Advisory Council and a steward of the park’s natural area. He said that flooding is an ongoing issue for the homes around the park and he liked the “natural solution” the plants provided. 

““It was a great way of engaging kids in the neighborhood,” he said of the fairy house. “We really made them think about what makes our park special to them.”

When Rutherford-Sayre’s natural area was chosen to get the fairy house, the council reached out to its extended network. 

“Two members of the Park Advisory Council, as well as someone who’s a tracker, brought their kids to a meeting,” Drebenstedt recalled. “We were given pieces of wood from the park district and when we had the kids out there, we talked to them about things they think about when they’re in the park. We asked them what they see and smell.”

The kids talked about the Metra trains running through the park and the Mars plant, which led to the chocolate factory idea. 

Drebenstedt said kids worked on the project under the advisory council’s supervision from May 1 through June 1. The fairy houses were officially unveiled on June 25. 

Drebenstedt said that the fairy house got a good response from the community. 

“A lot more people are using the parks,” he said. “We asked them, ‘Have you seen the fairy house?’ and they say, ‘Yeah, it’s great.’” 

For more information about the fairy houses, visit

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...