U.S. Army Corps of Engineers seeks input on proposed Jackson Park restoration

The Japanese Garden in Jackson Park Sunday afternoon. The Army Corps of Engineers published a detailed study, proposing some dramatic changes to the historic park. Marc Monaghan
The Japanese Garden in Jackson Park Sunday afternoon. The Army Corps of Engineers published a detailed study, proposing some dramatic changes to the historic park.

-Marc Monaghan


Staff Writer

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has released a feasibility study for a 30-day public review for proposed restorations of Jackson Park.

The study is the culmination of discussions between the USACE and the Jackson Park Advisory Council (JPAC), Chicago Park District and Project 120, a non-profit developing plans for a $10 million music pavilion in the park. It reviews the benefits, effects and costs of restoring the park’s native fish, plants and bird habitats.

The USACE’s report examines five ways of restoring 155 acres of the 543-acre park — as well as the result of taking no action — and recommends the most cost-effective option. If approved, 35 percent of the funds would come from the Chicago Park District and the rest from the federal government’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

“If there’s any significant agency or public comments that we have to change the plan, we would go ahead and incorporate those into the document,” said Frank Veraldi, ecosystem planner for the USACE Chicago District. Neither the USACE nor the Chicago Park District is required to hold a public meeting, but the Army Corps has recommended it, said Veraldi.

Although the USACE has analyzed the cost of various plans, the feasibility study contains no dollar amount for restoring the park.

“They’re always blacked out at this point because we don’t want to provide contractors who are going to bid on the contract any advantage yet,” Veraldi said. He said in January that the USACE’s planned restoration is eligible for up to $10 million in federal funding if it’s approved by this September.

JPAC met with the USACE and Chicago Park District to discuss its vision for the park’s restoration twice, said council president Louise McCurry.

The restoration would benefit the area in several ways, according to McCurry, including exposing city children to a native habitat and restoring its original fish population. Goldfish, common carp and alewife are  just a few invasive fish species in the park’s lagoon.

“Non-native species take over an area and destroy it,” McCurry said. “Non-native species just grow very quickly and die and disappear and don’t help the ecology at all.”

Bringing back native fish, she added, “will make it a great recreational area for those fishing clubs that are still there.”

Although the USACE’s restoration focuses on replacing invasive species with native ones, it also took into account architect Frederick Law Olmsted’s original plans for the park first developed in the late 19th century.

A full fledged restoration of the park to its natural habitat would be impossible without compromising Olmsted’s plans because they included non-native plants, Veraldi said. But the USACE’s plans have been guided in part by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and Project 120 hire Patricia O’Donnell, a Vermont-based architect who has helped to preserve several Olmsted parks.

“Our concerns have been alleviated because of the integration of the Olmsted expert into the process,” Project 120 President Bob Karr said.

Karr said he was originally concerned about the restoration’s impact on what he calls the park’s “Olmstead character.” Previous alterations to the park’s original designs include a Cold War-era NIKE anti-aircraft missile site.

“If we didn’t do it this way, and we approached it solely from a natural habitat restoration process, we could potentially lose the Olmstead character in the park,” Karr said.

To view the USACE’s feasibility study, visit lrc.usace.army.mil.

For more information, call Peter Bullock of the USACE at 312-846-5587. To provide comment on the USACE’s restoration, send an e-mail to peter.y.bullock@usace.army.mil or traditional mail addressed to: Peter Bullock, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 231 S. LaSalle St., Suite 1500, Chicago, Ill. 60604.

The deadline for comments is May 12.

E-mail: j.bishku@hpherald.com

Twitter: @jeffhba