A national organization, a local commitment to Chicagoland’s rivers - Metropolitan Planning Council

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A national organization, a local commitment to Chicagoland’s rivers

The National Park Service joined the Chicago Park District in restoring wetlands at Hegewisch Marsh along the Calumet River

Image courtesy Naureen Rana, Chicago Park District

The National Park Service protects and manages some of the nation’s most historic sites, important natural resources, and scenic recreation areas. Here in Chicago, you can take a train to go camping at Indiana Dunes National Park and join a walking tour with the staff at Pullman National Monument, interpreting the cultural history of the Pullman Company and the people that worked there. But did you know the mission of the National Park Service extends far beyond the boundaries of national park sites?

Through the Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance program, Park Service staff (typically Community Planners, Landscape Architects, and Outdoor Recreation Planners) serve as advisors to local partners and bring the mission of the National Park Service to communities across the country. In 2016, National Park Service staff began supporting the Our Great Rivers initiative, led by our colleagues at the Metropolitan Planning Council and Friends of the Chicago River. 

"Rock socks" are 40-to-50-pound mesh containment systems filled with pea gravel and soil that contain up to five aquatic plants each

This year, the National Park Service continued its commitment to Our Great Rivers by partnering with the Chicago Park District Natural Areas program to support the removal of invasive species and restoration of native habitat at Hegewisch Marsh, a natural area with 129 acres of wetlands, woodlands, and open prairie next to the Calumet River on Chicago’s Southeast Side.

The National Park Service received $540,000 through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and entered into a cooperative agreement with the Chicago Park District to fund this multi-year project. This summer Chicago Park District crews have removed invasive species such as Phragmites and reed canary grass. Over the next two years, they’ll seed native plant species and install plugs to restore the area to a natural habitat to better serve the variety of wildlife species that call Hegewisch Marsh home. One of the major project activities for this year will be the installation of “rock socks” near the shoreline of the open water section of the marsh. Rock socks are 40-to-50-pound mesh containment systems filled with pea gravel and soil that contain up to five aquatic plants each. These pre-grown plants will eventually grow out of their mesh bags to establish more dense root systems in the marsh bottom.

Image courtesy Matthew Pittman, Greening Youth Foundation

One of the many goals Our Great Rivers seeks to accomplish by the year 2040 is “thriving river ecosystems.” Through collaboration and partnerships, the National Park Service and the Chicago Park District will help make Hegewisch Marsh a thriving ecosystem and a quality natural area for all Chicagoans to enjoy while spending time outdoors. So stop by Hegewisch Marsh sometime soon to enjoy the nature trails, bird-watching, and a chance to get close to the Calumet River. You might be surprised by what you’ll discover!

Michael Mencarini is a Community Planner with the National Park Service's Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance program. Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance is a community partnerships program that provides technical assistance to government agencies, non-profit organizations, and community groups that are planning outdoor recreation or natural resource conservation project in communities across the country.

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