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Jackson Park



The Chicago Park District (CPD) holds many city parks within the Chicago City limits, many of which have portions dedicated to natural habitats that exemplify the Chicago region. The CPD has requested that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Chicago District initiate a study under the Section 506 Great Lakes Fishery and Ecosystem Restoration (GLFER) authority to determine the feasibility of restoring important migratory bird, fish and wildlife habitat within the natural portions of Jackson Park.

Project Description:

Jackson Park is located in Chicago, along the western coast of Lake Michigan. The park resides between 56th Street to the north and 67th Street to the south. The eastern boundary is Lake Shore Drive and Lake Michigan, and to the west Stony Island Avenue. The study area consists of various natural area parcels, all of which are owned by CPD within Jackson Park. The natural area patches have the potential to provide pond, fringe marsh, sedge meadow, savanna and woodland habitat. The study area in rust color, on the map at right, is the area being considered for ecological restoration.

Total Project Costs: $6,886,100

         Federal Costs: $4,475,965

 Non-Federal Costs: $2, 410,135

Current Status:

The feasibility study was approved in June 2014, a Project Partnership Agreement signed in August 2014, and a five-year construction contract awarded in September 2014. The collaboration between the Army Corps of Engineers Chicago District, Chicago Park District, Project 120 (a non for profit), Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, Heritage Landscapes (an Olmsted expert), and community representatives will ensure that the finished Jackson Park GLFER project is a successful ecosystem restoration of an Olmsted Park. 

Project Aspects:

Current Ecological Conditions – Before the 1830s, the Jackson Park area was a sandy ecosystem of primarily dune, wetland and savanna ecotypes. Over a period of several decades, this ecosystem was severely altered by human activities. Currently, Jackson Park no longer provides a diversity of habitats, nor is the existing habitat quality sufficient to maintain structure and support healthy plant and animal communities. Based on site inventory and characterization by USACE, a set of problems and opportunities were developed by the study team, non-federal sponsor and supporting stakeholders. These drive the need for action, which is summarized as the historic loss of significant migratory bird, fish and wildlife habitats.



The Jackson Park manmade East and West Lagoons and the golf course waterway are classified as Pond community for this study. The existing pond communities are characterized by shallow water, absent of aquatic macrophyte beds. Although these lagoons are manmade, they do mimic coastal ponds in geomorphology and substrate materials, such as the Grand Mere Lakes in Berrien County, Mich. The absence of aquatic macrophyte beds is most likely due to the absence of a native seed bank and/or predation by Common Carp and Canada Geese.

Existing Islands


The existing islands located within the lagoon at Jackson Park are characterized as having low quality species that include but are not limited to Tree-of-Heaven, Garlic-Mustard, Canadian Thistle, Queen Anne’s Lace, Glossy False Buckthorn, Reed Canary Grass, Common Reed, Kentucky Blue Grass, European Buckthorn, Squill, Staghorn Sumac, and Tall Goldenrod. Some higher quality native species that occur on the islands include Nodding Burr-Marigold, Three-Lobe Beggarticks, Great Blue Lobelia, Wand Panic Grass, Culver's-Root, and Nanny-Berry. There are two acres of existing islands located within the study area, which were formed as part of the 1905 Jackson Park design.

Fringe Marsh

Marsh communities are characterized as having water at or near the surface during most of the growing season and dominated by herbaceous vegetation. There are a few acres of existing marsh-like patches identified within the project area, but for the most part absent from the pond fringes. Marshes would typically be found adjacent to or intermingled with wet prairie and sedge meadows. Most species currently within the study area are non-native and invasive along the shoreline including Annual Ragweed, Lamb's-Quarters, Canadian Thistle, Reed Canary Grass, Common Reed, Catnip, Spearmint, Japanese Bristle Grass, and Highbush-Cranberry. Native species richness is low with opportunistic, mostly annual/biennial hydrophytic species occupying a thin area along some pond fringes such as Devil’s-Pitchfork, Spotted Touch-Me-Not, and Mild Water-Pepper. View pond/ fringe marsh plant inventory.

Savanna & Woodland


Savanna and open woodland communities are typically a mix of woodland and grassland species, described as an intermediate community type between closed canopy woodland and open prairie. Features that are characteristic of savannas include open-canopied structures dominated by a few species of oak and a diverse, fire-dependent understory with forbs, grasses, and shrubs, which exhibit a varying degree of tolerance to different light intensities. Impacts to savanna and open woodland communities include habitat fragmentation and fire suppression, which have caused a shift in species composition within this community type. The absence of a natural fire regime has allowed woody growth to crowd out the herbaceous cover and change the structure and composition of savanna and open woodland communities to more of a typical forest community. Most of the savanna and open woodlands within the study area are heavily degraded with a dense understory of invasive shrubs including Highbush-Cranberry and European Buckthorn. Other weedy and/or non native species include Ash-Leaf Maple, Norway Maple, Silver Maple, Horse Chestnut, Tree-of-Heaven, Garlic-Mustard, Beggar’s-Lice, White Mulberry, Amur Cork Tree, White Poplar, and Tall Goldenrod. More conservative native species are scattered throughout this habitat type, as well, and include Nodding Onion, Red Columbine, Canadian Milk-Vetch, Pennsylvania Sedge, American Hazelnut, Dwarf Honeysuckle, Eastern Wahoo, Sweet-Scented Joe-Pye-Weed, Rough Gayfeather, Short’s Aster, Common Hoptree, Northern White Oak, Burr Oak, Pin Oak, and Smooth Blue American-Aster. View savanna and woodland plant inventory. View sedge meadow plant inventory.

Lagoon Fishes

All fish collections from Lake Michigan within a 1.5-mile radius of the Jackson Park Lagoons were queried from the Fishes of Chicago Region Database. Seventy-nine (79) collections were made between 1895 and 2004 that reveal that about 46 native fish species could or have occurred within the Jackson Park South Lagoon, which is connected with Lake Michigan (View Table). Nonnative fishes include Alosa pseudoharengus (alewife), Carassius auratus (goldfish), Ctenopharyngodon idella (grass carp), Salmo trutta (European brown trout), Cyprinus carpio (common carp), Gambusia affinis (mosquito fish), Neogobius melanostomus (round goby), Oncorhynchus mykiss (steelhead), Oncorhynchus tshawytscha (Chinook salmon), Osmerus mordax (rainbow smelt), and Gasterostueus aculeatus (threespine stickleback). A specific fish inventory was completed by the Illinois DNR for the East and West lagoons. Two surveys were completed, one in October 2012 and one in November 2012. Most species identified are nonnative, invasive and/or not indicative of a Lake Michigan coastal pond community (View Table). Native species present indicative of a coastal pond community include Brown Bullhead, Pumpkinseed, Black Crappie and Golden Shiner.

Tree Inventory - An inventory of all non-native trees with a breast height diameter of over 8 inches was completed. Small metal tags with numbers are fastened to trees within the Jackson Park study area only to identify what species they are in order to geo-reference their position to create a tree location map. Most non-native and invasive trees tagged include but are not limited to white mulberry, Norway maple, tree of heaven, European alder, and Amur cork tree. Native tree species will be preserved no matter what plan results from this study. Native trees to be preserved include but are not limited to oak species, sugar and silver maple, sycamore, hackberry, hawthorn, Ohio buckeye, and catalpa. View plant species inventory for complete list of both native and nonnative species currently found at Jackson Park.

Historic Fredrick Law Olmsted Designs – Because Jackson Park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as an Olmsted-designed park, it has been advantageous for the Chicago District to work closely with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (IHPA) to ensure that the park's integrity is maintained.  Consultations with IHPA have been ongoing since the Jackson Park Ecosystem Restoration Project was conceived (letter Dec. 12, 2012).   Early consultations with IHPA began at the conceptual level of the project (letter March 1, 2013).  Staff from IHPA participated in a site visit at Jackson Park April 16, 2013, where they expressed support for the project (letter April 26, 2013). Approval of the preliminary plans for the Jackson Park restoration was received from IHPA (letter Nov. 14, 2013).  A progress report was presented to IHPA (e-mail Nov. 21, 2013) and acknowledged in a response (Jan. 31, 2014).  A second update that included notification of CPD's hiring of an Olmsted expert landscape architect was sent to IHPA Feb. 25, 2014. Consultations continue to ensure the project is a success.

Osaka Garden & Bobolink Meadow – This study is currently not considering Federal Action at both the Osaka Garden and Bobolink Meadow.



Project Location

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Project Study Area

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Project Manager

Kirston Buczak