Region in a Park?

By Christina Blackston

Just as Mayor Daley’s Millennium Park became an attraction for Chicagoans and tourists alike, the proposed Calumet (previously Millennium) Reserve System hopes to allow the residents of Southeast Chicago and other visitors to experience water and wildlife corridors just miles from the city.

As an expansion of the Calumet Open Space Reserve Plan, the Calumet Reserve seeks to:

  • Preserve approximately 4,000 acres of land and waters of the Calumet area that support large populations of herons, egrets and other water birds. Marshes and open lands will eventually be interconnected by hiking and biking trails.
  • Restore historic dune and swale remnant ecosystems along Illinois’ Lake Michigan Shoreline and connect them to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
  • Rehabilitate legacy brownfields for inclusion in (MR) by incorporating the successful Mud to Parks Initiative.  Restore brownfield sites for renewable energy/industrial development.
  • Develop a training academy for conservation workers in partnership with National Park Service and located at a newly completed Ford Environmental Center.
  • Complete a comprehensive network of proposed bike trails, water trails and wildlife corridors that connects the reserve system to Millennium Park, and the proposed new South Works neighborhood.
  • Streamline and coordinate habitat restoration and management by transferring Lake Calumet and its environs to IDNR for management and restoration. This will improve public access to these resources for the citizens of Illinois and allow us to secure larger commitments of federal resources because of the scientific and management experience to protect the threatened and endangered species in the area.
  • Improve the quality of life for residents of Southeast Chicago by allowing them to benefit from daily interaction with nature, and all Chicago residents will be able to enjoy what will become the Chicago’s largest nature reserve.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources cites the plan as the state’s response to President Obama’s Great Outdoors Initiative, which seeks to

  • Reconnect Americans, especially children, to America’s outdoors
  • Use science-based management practices to restore and protect our lands and waters for future generations
  • Build upon local priorities for the conservation of land, water, wildlife, historic and cultural resources.

According to the American Planning Association, cities can and should use parks for stormwater managment and flood control, two benefits that Chicago ought to take advantage of . The American Forest Preserve estimates the economic impact of green infrastructure in the Washington, DC metropolitan region, saying that the 187,767 acres of tree canopy provides 949 million cubic feet in avoided storage of water, valued at $4.7 billion annually.

In its Sustainable Development Principles for Protecting Nature in the Chicago Wilderness Region, the Chicago Wilderness alliance describes the benefits of green infrastructure for stormwater management. The amount of potentially polluted stormwater runoff is decreased if impervious surface area is diminished and replaced with a riparian buffer which includes understory, shrubs, groundcover and trees. This greenery allows water to return to the earth rather than flowing too quickly, eroding soil, and discharging polluted runoff into streams and rivers. Returning more water to the earth means that the communities which rely on aquifers will be more able easily able to extract their water supply, and those who get drinking water from rivers will have less chemicals in their water supply. The New York State Stormwater Management Design Manual does a good job of explaining in more detail the relationship between green infrastructure and stormwater management.

Perhaps a more comprehensive plan would also encourage green improvements, such as permeable surfaces, tree planting, rain barrels, etc. in the communities that are included in the Calumet Reserve area. Designating preservation areas and encouraging residents to make use of water and wildlife trails is important, but showing changes they can make in their own backyard to preserve natural resources is just as essential.

On a map of the Calumet (Millennium) Reserve Area though there are some clusters of publicly held lands in the plan area, there are also many small isolated tracts. While they can be connected through existing and proposed trails it is unclear at this time what the relationship between the Calumet Reserve Area will look like with the communities and infrastructure that are already in place. I’m looking forward to learning more about which green urban design elements will be used to transition from the built environment to the preserved and restored natural environment.

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One Response to Region in a Park?

  1. Sounds like a good plan. It sure is nice being able to enjoy wildlife and habitats located in or neat the city (from a touristic standpoint).

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