Millions for bird scheme

Staff Writer

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is seeking to rehabilitate Jackson Park over the next five years.

USACE is exploring a plan to restore around 160 acres of Jackson Park, beginning this year and lasting through 2019. The project, aimed at removing invasive species and introducing native vegetation, is part of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a $300 million project of the Environmental Protection Agency.

“All of this coastal habitat is extremely important for migratory birds, and in particular waterfowl and songbirds,” said USACE Chicago District Ecosystem Planner Frank Veraldi, adding that because of urbanization along the Lake Michigan coastline, they have little space to rest or forage.

“So any time you have these little patches of open space and you can turn the [plantings there] back into native [flora] which provides the food and shelter which the European plants are not doing for these birds, then you make a big impact.”

The project, sponsored by the Chicago Park District, has been in its feasibility phase since last summer. After a technical and policy review, a report detailing plans for the park’s restoration will likely be released to the public by mid-February, according to Veraldi.

Veraldi said he expects the plans — and possible alternatives — to be outlined in a 90-page report complete with photos, maps and figures.

Earthwork, guided by Frederick Law Olmstead’s original plan for the park, would take place during the restoration’s first year, Veraldi said, followed by the planting of native vegetation. Aquatic vegetation would be established and buckthorn in the golf course removed and replaced with meadows. Carp would be removed from the park’s lagoon, because they stunt vegetation growth and stir up sediment.

“Based on the literature and our experience right now what they are doing is preventing aquatic vegetation from growing at all and they keep stirring up the bottom sediment, causing the phosphorus to get released,” Veraldi said. “That’s why it always has a green tinge to it, and it looks pretty gross.”

The park’s storied Osaka Garden wouldn’t be affected by USACE’s restoration. The “Japanese plants, the design, the rocks, the koi — that’s all going to stay there, untouched,” Veraldi said.

The plans must be approved and a construction contract obtained by Sept. 30 to be eligible for EPA funding. Veraldi said he could not discuss the project’s cost, but he added that a majority of the project’s funds — up to $10 million — would come from the federal government.

The USACE has been conducting its study of the park while coordinating with various agencies and organizations, including the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Friends of the Parks and the Jackson Park Advisory Council.

Non-profit Project 120’s plans for a $10 million visitors center in Jackson Park would not interfere with USAC’s restoration, according to Veraldi. “They will complement each other most excellently,” he said.