Chicago Wilderness Honors Top Conservation And Native Landscaping Projects

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 and Chicago Wilderness have announced the recipients of their annual Conservation and Native Landscaping Awards.

The awards recognize park districts, forest preserve districts, nonprofit organizations, local governments and corporations for exemplary natural landscaping, ecological restoration and conservation design projects. These practices create and protect habitat for a variety of native plant and animal species and result in important environmental benefits for both people and nature.

The winners will be recognized on December 11, 2012, at the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Alsdorf Auditorium. The two-hour awards ceremony will begin at 1pm and will be followed by a 30-minute reception. The awards ceremony is an open invitation to the public as well as the winners.

Congratulations to the following projects and organizations that are helping to ensure a future of green infrastructure:

Project: Gaslight Park Bird and Butterfly Sanctuary
Organization: Village of Algonquin
Project Size: 6.4 acres
Project Start Date: 07/15/2008

Project Overview: Today, the Gaslight Park Bird and Butterfly Sanctuary is a beautiful restored prairie site that is part of a public park. Native wildflower plantings and bluebird nest boxes as well as a clean, clear stream in a woodland thicket provide a refuge and habitat for many animals in the midst of a residential area. Previously, the site was comprised of a high-maintenance turf grass area, which was adjacent to a walking trail that served as a divider between the passive and active recreational areas of the park as well as a lower-lying wetland area containing an overgrown wood thicket with a barely-flowing stream. The creek was meant to help channel water into a stormwater detention basin, but the creek and basin were ineffective and clogged with invasive, non-native plants.

The project focused on stormwater management to improve flooding and water quality, invasive removal and control, native plant seeding (with a no till drill) and installation and conversion from a grassy, mowed area into a low-maintenance site that could be enjoyed by both the public and wildlife communities.

Project: Nature Trails
Organization: Chicago Academy of Sciences/Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
Project Size: four acres
Project Start Date: 06/23/2008

Project Overview:  DCEO grant funds were used for the building of an interpretative Nature Trail around the perimeter of the Chicago Academy of Sciences and its Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum (PNNM) to connect Museum visitors to our landscapes along with our indoor and outdoor exhibits. The Nature Museum opened Nature Trails to the public on June 21, 2011. It consists of four acres of trails on which guests can explore and see native plants that are part of prairie, savanna, wetland or woodland ecosystems. There is an urban garden with seasonal herbs and vegetables and a butterfly garden with plantings that attract and feed butterflies. The interpretative signage provides information on vegetation and wildlife and points visitors to hands-on exhibitions inside the Nature Museum. Before the project the grounds were not as accessible to the public and were covered with non-native plants and invasive species. There was a lack of signage and information about plantings or ecosystems to educate the public about nature in the region.

Project: Henry Palmisano Park
Organization: Chicago Park District
Project Size: 27 acres
Project Start Date: groundbreaking in 2003

Project Overview:  Henry Palmisano Park is a twenty-seven-acre environmental park located in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois. The park was designed to engage residents, support native ecosystems and provide habitat. The dynamic design includes wide stretches of native prairie,  interpretive wetlands, a large 2-acre pond, preserved quarry walls, over 1.7 miles of trails, an athletic field, a running track, and a hill that offers dramatic views.   These native ecosystems and built features have become a popular destination for thousands of Chicagoans. But this was not always the case. In the late 1830s, the land was purchased by a company which began limestone quarry operations, and became known as Stearns Quarry.  The quarry continued operating under until 1970, at which point the site began being used as a landfill for clean construction debris. After the dumping ended, the idea of transforming the site into a new park emerged, and ground was broken on the park project in 2003.

Project: Sherman Park Lagoon Restoration
Organization: Chicago Park District
Project Size: 11+ acres
Project Start Date: Spring 2008

Project Overview: Sherman Park Lagoon* covers over 11 acres within a 60 acre park on Chicago’s south side. In addition to providing holding capacity for storm water runoff, the lagoon is the centerpiece of green space in the heart of an area that has been considered urban for over 100 years. Please note that this application is for the renovation of the water body alone, and not the park. The immediate shoreline is included in this application since it was part of the targeted work area. Before the renovation work on the water body began, the lagoon had suffered the fate of many urban ponds:  the accumulation of nutrients over time that led to the growth of aquatic vegetation that resulted in 100% vegetative coverage of the water surface. Sunlight was blocked from the lagoon bottom prohibiting rooted aquatic plants from establishing themselves, making oxygen and habitat unavailable for aquatic life of any quality. Although the lagoon was stocked with fish annually as part of the Chicago Park District’s Fishing Program, the condition of the lagoon was such that this park was being used less than intended. The goal of the renovation was to create open water and to be able to sustain that condition in ways that minimized the use of chemical herbicides. Of note, a US Supreme Court ruling that requires that as of October 2011, the USEPA must regulate chemical applications to surface waters under the existing NPDES program. This program mandates that ‘alternative methods’ to aquatic vegetative control be considered before chemical control is implemented. The Chicago Park District was planning to achieve this goal starting in 2007, four years ahead of the Federal requirement to do so.

Project: Bergman Slough Land and Water Reserve
Organization: Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Project Size: 250 acres
Project Start Date: 08/29/2001

Project Overview:  Bergman Slough currently supports a complex mix of restored remnant prairie, savanna, and wetland community types, as well as reconstructed prairie. Before restoration, the majority of the preserve was row-crop field, interspersed with degraded sections of remnant prairie and savanna. Just over a decade after the project began, the floristic quality of Bergman Slough marks this preserve as one of regional importance.

Project: McMahon Fen Nature Preserve
Organization: Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Project Size: 90 acres
Project Start Date: 1998

Project Overview:  McMahon Fen & Woods was a badly degraded area, choked by a vast thicket of buckthorn, boxelder, hawthorn, honeysuckle, and other invasive brush and trees. Beset by brush encroachment, the fen, a unique type of wetland that is fed by groundwater, was being dewatered by the degradation. It was also getting gullied and suffered from stormwater that overflowed from the road and the creek.

But the site harbored promise including pockets of prairie, small populations of state-threatened rare plants, a bur oak savanna lost within a sea of buckthorn, and the federally endangered Hine’s emerald dragonfly.

Project: Iroquois Sands
Organization: Friends of the Kankakee (FOK)
Project Size: Approx 700 acres
Project Start Date: About 2002

Project Overview:  Friends of Kankakee is acquiring/assembling individual lots/vacant land in between Hooper Branch Savanna, Carl N. Becker Savanna, and Willow Slough. Some lots support high quality sand-based natural communities and endangered species; other lots are recovering agricultural fields. The largest tract in FOK ownership (over 70 acres), was registered in perpetuity as an IL Land & Water Reserve, and its high quality communities are being maintained/managed, while disturbed agricultural fields and homesteads are in the process of being restored.

Project: Heatherwood Estates Pond
Organization: Heatherwood Estates Homeowners Association
Project Size: Approximately 3/4 Acre
Project Start Date: 05/20/2008

Project Overview:  The site was originally a pond surrounded with rock and turf grass. We moved the rock down to the toe of the slope, and installed native prairie/wetland plants in a buffer along the entire shoreline. Some dead trees were also placed in the water at the shoreline to provide habitat and structure for birds, reptiles and amphibians.

Project: Red Mill Park Great Lakes Ecosystem Restoration
Organization: LaPorte County Parks
Project Size: 160 acres
Project Start Date: 05/01/2010

Project Overview: The third major phase at Red Mill was a partnership with the United States Army Corps of Engineers with the replacement of a circa 1830’s twenty foot high earthen dam that the Parks inherited that had served its useful life and was in the process of failing. During the spring of 2010 construction finally began and a new sheet pile water control structure was constructed just upstream of the failing earthen dam. The area below this was dewatered and a new 450’ stream channel was created using native cobble, riffles and waterfalls. The original earthen dam was demolished and the entire disturbed area was replanted with native vegetation including a sedge meadow, and stream valley wetland species. As well access to the south portion of the property was maintained as a new span bridge was installed allowing for maintenance of the park and access for the public. The total project cost was $1,877,000 million dollars with the local cash share of $274,000 coming from the Riverboat fund. The project has preserved and restored over 120 acres in the headwaters of the Little Calumet River a tributary to Lake Michigan. The project will preserve the current ecosystems by maintain existing water levels, restoring native plant species, and improving fish habitat. The primary focus of the GLEFER Great Lakes Ecosystem & Fisheries Restoration program, funded by Congress, is that of restoration of fisheries habitat and their ecosystems. During the spring and summer of 2011the final phase of the project was completed with the native seeds and plugs taking root and it was dedicated as the first project completed under this new program in the fall of 2011.

Project: Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo
Organization: Lincoln Park Zoo
Project Size: 14 acres
Project Start Date: Planning began in fall 2005

Project Overview:  Lincoln Park’s South Pond was a man-made landscape feature that has been nestled in Lincoln Park since 1876. While it had been a place of relaxation for more than a century, this much-loved yet degraded destination was far from a natural refuge. It housed stocked fish and a variety of aquatic residents people had dumped into it over the years. It wasn’t deep enough to properly support wildlife. The water quality was poor.

The entire perimeter edge of the pond was comprised of steel bulkhead and concrete   retaining walls that were collapsing into the pond. The asphalt walking paths along much of the pond perimeter were severely eroded and often closed for public safety reasons.   Almost 70 percent of the surface immediately adjacent to the pond was either asphalt or   concrete.    Open space surrounding the pond was relatively high-maintenance turf grass and impervious pathways.     Invasive and non-native species pervaded the pond and surrounding areas.    Renamed as the Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo, today the 14-acre South Pond site is teeming with wildlife. From black-crowned night herons, to bullfrogs, largemouth bass, dragonflies and swallows it brings a naturalistic ecosystem to the heart of the city – and to the 3 million people who visit the zoo annually.     The Nature Boardwalk’s pond is deeper, with a naturalized shoreline, an island refuge now also benefiting from a naturalized shoreline;  tens of thousands of new wetland and prairie plants and 100 new trees – all representing native species – made the transformation possible. Visitors to Nature Boardwalk learn about wetland ecology and environmental biology, while gaining a broader appreciation of nature and natural systems, through a variety of educational opportunities. An educational pavilion, eye-catching interpretive signage, tours, workshops, and special programs make Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo a place of new connections with nature and an oasis for urban wildlife.

Project: Loyola Academy Wetland Restoration
Organization: Loyola Academy
Project Size: 1.1 acres is the wetland area
Project Start Date: 03/01/2003

Project Overview:  Transformed a degraded riparian wetland dominated by invasive species into a living laboratory. The site consists of two small wetlands separated by a slight swale, and is sandwiched between the base of an old landfill, which has been converted into athletic fields for the Academy, and the west branch of the North Branch of the Chicago River.  Initially this site was impenetrable due to the buckthorn and other woody species.  Now a path surrounds the wetlands and rock platforms have been installed in the river and also in an adjacent pond so that students have easy access to several aquatic environments.

Project: Naper Settlement Stormwater Management Improvements (aka Stormwater Attenuation Action Plan)
Organization: City of Naperville
Project Size: 12 Acres
Project Start Date: 06/01/2011

Project Overview:  Before the project took place, all of the walkways throughout Naper Settlement were asphalt and crumbling. Due to the topography of the site, the edges of the paths were eroding significantly. The historic buildings, many of which do not have gutters and downspouts, were being damaged by rainwater and mud being splashed up onto the facades. Over the years Naper Settlement has expanded, but no thought was given to stormwater management and with the increase in impervious surfaces localized flooding often occurred.

Now, all of the walkways throughout the site are permeable concrete pavers, which are interconnected with infiltration trenches, bioswales, rain gardens, and cisterns. The rain gardens and bioswales are vegetated with native species, and interpretive signage has been installed to educate the public about how all these elements work together to improve water quality, reduce flooding, and provide habitat.

Project: Niles Community Rain Garden and Prairie Plant Project
Organization: Village of Niles
Project Size: 3/4 acre
Project Start Date: 06/01/2008

Project Overview:  Currently, the site contains over 2,800 sf of rain garden, 1,800 sf of prairie grasses, and over 2,500 native forbs and grasses that have the potential to absorb and naturally filter stormwater runoff from 36,000 sf of nearby impervious surface. The site before the project was initiated was a lot left vacant from the removal of two commercial buildings. Just prior to the June 2008 project, the site was no more than poorly drained turf grass and dirt.

Conservation Development

Project: Olde Schaumburg Center Parking Lot
Organization: Village of Schaumburg
Project Size: 2.021 ac
Project Start Date: 04/09/2009

Project Overview:  The Olde Schaumburg Center Parking Lot is a 140 space parking lot in the heart of our historic district.  The project focused on several goals: provide additional parking for local businesses, provide needed storm water management, include sustainable development practices and meet the aesthetic requirements of the historic district. Eighty percent of the parking stalls were constructed using permeable pavers with underground rock-void detention storage. The parking lot is bordered on three sides by naturally planted bio-swales, detention basins and ornamental plantings.The fourth side contains many large trees with turf and ornamental plantings which were preserved to help buffer the adjacent residential areas. Storm water best management practices and a recycled rain water irrigation system are the highlights of this sustainable development.

Certificate of Merit

Project: Empowerment through Education and Exposure
Organization: Saferfoundation DOE
Project Size: 8 city parcels
Project Start Date: 03/01/2012

Project Overview:  The Fifth Ave sites have been complete restored with native plantings, shrubs and trees.The lots are located around low poverty, high crime area in Garfield park where many vacant city lots are poorly maintained used for illegal dumping. The plants added to the site have all been purchased by a native purveyor -Possibility Place and includes gooseberry’s, filberts, and choke cherrys to encourage birds to habitat. The site has been completely mulched and urbanite beds made of broken concrete are used for raised beds. The site will be used for vegetable growing where local youth will maintain the site for 3 years until the plant material establishes.

Chicago Wilderness thanks all of the winners, award selectors, and your interest in a sustainable future. Congratulations!

One thought on “Chicago Wilderness Honors Top Conservation And Native Landscaping Projects

  1. Why not offer the “Top Conservation Award” to home/land owners as well?
    Much, if not most of the US is made up of privately owned land. And because of this fact, it is the landowner who has the most opportunity to restore the amount of land that will be needed in order for true habitat restoration to be a success. Awards like that above would be a nice “reward” and proomotional tool. Everything little incentive helps! Get the landscape contractors on board and we’re really cooking with gas!
    Thank you,

    John Mariani

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