Army Corps of Engineers set to award contract for five-year, multimillion-dollar Jackson Park restoration

Wooded Island steward Jerry Levy listens to Army Corp and Chicago Park District project managers during last Monday’s Jackson Park Advisory Council (JPAC) meeting in the Jackson Park field house, 6401 S. Stony Island Ave. -Marc Monaghan

Wooded Island steward Jerry Levy listens to Army Corp and Chicago Park District project managers during last Monday’s Jackson Park Advisory Council (JPAC) meeting in the Jackson Park field house, 6401 S. Stony Island Ave.

-Marc Monaghan

By JEFFREY BISHKU-AYKUL
Staff Writer

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is preparing to award a contract for its plan to restore habitats in Jackson Park, a five-year process that will involve planting hundreds of species of native plants and replacing lagoon fish – among other measures.

The USACE is in the final stages of drafting its restoration plan and a contract will be awarded by Sept. 30, according to Frank Veraldi, ecosystem planner for the Corps’ Chicago District. To account for possible funding constraints, the restoration will take place in four stages, beginning on the park’s northern end and ending on its southern edges.

“We’re hoping and working on the cost estimates so that we can do everything. We’re trying hard. But there’s always that slim chance,” Veraldi said.

The USACE’s estimate for the project cost is $5 to $10 million, with two thirds of funding coming from the federal government’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the rest from the Chicago Park District (CPD). Part of CPD’s contribution will come from funds raised by Project 120, a non-profit that seeks to build a $10 million visitors center south of the Columbia Basin and has assisted the USACE in maintaining architect Frederick Law Olmsted’s original vision for the park.

The Chicago Park District entered a project partnership agreement with the USACE last Wednesday, and committed to spending up to $1.9 million on the restoration. These funds include $700,000 from CPD, another $700,000 from Project 120, and $500,000 from other private donors.

Planned work on Jackson Park includes contouring along the lagoon’s edges, as well as the removal of a wooden fishing pier and concrete platform there. Twelve outlooks will be added at the lagoon and South Harbor. In addition to restoring the park’s savannah, fringe marsh and woodland habitats, the USACE will create two new sedge meadows at the park’s golf driving range and berms along the park’s east edge to reduce noise from Lake Shore Drive.

Work is no longer planned to take place on the Great Lawn, so as to maintain Olmsted’s influence there. That acreage has been swapped for stretches of park land – including lawns south of La Rabida Children’s Hospital that will be restored with native savannah grass – knocking down the project’s total area from 155 acres to 139.

“We lost a little more than we have gained,” Veraldi said.

Although Veraldi expects a quarter of Jackson Park’s trees to be removed to conduct the restoration, CPD project manager Lauren Umek – who presented alongside him – said they aim to plant just as many. The restoration would involve planting more than 300 species of fauna, she added.

“Fifty six of them are shrubs. So this is going to be bird paradise, when this is all said and done,” Umek said.

Jackson Park will be far from paradise for fish, however – at least during the start of USACE’s restoration.

One of the project’s most drastic plans is to poison and replace all lagoon fish, in hopes that carp and bullheads won’t prevent the growth of aquatic vegetation and leave the water with a murky tint.

“We’ll put in a poison that takes out the fish and we’ll clean it all up,” Veraldi said. “And then we’ll start immediately putting new fish back in there.

Fathead minnows and golden shriners will be introduced into the lagoon first, followed by bigger fish, and a chain link fence will be installed under the Clarence Darrow Bridge.

“The point of that is that [the Department of Natural Resources] will stock their game fishes in the Columbia Basin and then we’re going to restore the east and west lagoon to have fishes you would find in dunal ponds along Lake Michigan,” Veraldi said.

Removal of lagoon fish will take about half a week, according to Veraldi, and the lagoon will be closed to the public and to fishing for around one year.

To learn more about the USACE’s restoration plans, visit lrc.usace.army.mil/Missions/CivilWorksProjects/JacksonPark.aspx.

j.bishku@hpherald.com