North Lake Shoreline Restoration Project Complete

Published Aug. 30, 2012

GLENCOE, Ill. (Aug. 27, 2012) - The Chicago Botanic Garden and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Ecosystem Restoration Program have completed a ten-month Section 206 Ecosystem Restoration Project to restore 1.25 miles of shoreline at the Chicago Botanic Garden’s North Lake.

Using innovative “bioengineering” techniques, the project added more than 120,000 native shoreline plants—some with roots more than six feet deep—that were carefully chosen for their ability to anchor eroding shoreline soils and withstand environmental stresses inherent to urban waterways. Together with more than 1,000 native shrubs added along the shoreline edge, these new plantings enhance water quality and provide important habitat for frogs, turtles, fish, mussels, aquatic insects, and birds.

The North Lake project represents the largest perennial planting effort in the Garden’s 40-year history. A dedication ceremony will be held at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, September 4, at the Kleinman Family Cove, part of the Chicago Botanic Garden's new Learning Campus.

“This restoration project serves as a living laboratory for Garden conservation scientists and our colleagues with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who study urban water resources. Many Garden visitors have watched in awe as the project progressed over the past ten months.  We have created healthy habitat where plants, wildlife, and birds will thrive, and we are grateful to our project partners and funders for making this possible,” said Sophia Siskel, president and CEO of the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Last December, the North Lake’s 54 million gallons of water were drained to facilitate regrading along the shoreline and creation of shallow water planting “shelves” that extend out into the lake. During work that extended through the winter, thousands of tons of stone and soil were placed along the lake edge to create new aquatic planting beds. The lake began to refill in June, and by mid-August most of the new shoreline plants had been installed.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Section 206 Ecosystem Restoration Program provided substantial funding for the North Lake project.  "This has been a truly remarkable and innovative project and it has been our pleasure to be a part of the team working to restore, maintain, and protect the natural areas along the shoreline of the North Lake," said Col. Fredric A. Drummond, Jr., of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Garden began rejuvenation of its nearly six miles of eroding lakeshore using plant-based, environmentally progressive approaches in 1999; with the completion of this project, more than three-fourths of the Garden’s shoreline is now enhanced and protected.

Helping to protect the new plants are custom-fabricated plastic mesh and specialized webbing materials that resist wave erosion as well as the disruption caused by bottom-feeding fish (notably the common carp). 

The North Lake’s transformation is remarkable from both ecological and aesthetic perspectives. Garden visitors will enjoy the diversity of new plantings along the lakeshore. During the project’s design, special attention was given to the plants’ seasonal interest as well as habitat offerings for migratory birds. Plants were arranged in modest “drifts” to demonstrate how native shoreline plantings can be attractively integrated within more traditional ornamental landscapes.

In addition to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, important funding support for the project was provided by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, as well as private donors to the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Visit for video clips of the North Lake Shoreline Restoration.

Admission to the Chicago Botanic Garden is free. Select event fees apply. Parking is $20 per car; free for Garden members. For information about Garden programs and events, call (847) 835-5440, or visit

Lynne Whelen

Release no. 12-002