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Intergovernmental Cooperation

Ecological
Restoration
and
Environmental
Stewardship
in
Chicago's
Neighborhood
Parks

by Geri Weinstein

Prairie
Photo by Geri Weinstein
DuSable High School teacher and student participate
in plant monitoring at the Marquette Park Prarie

In April 1994 the Chicago Park District began the Park's Urban Restoration Ecology Program (P.U.R.E.). This program brings together community residents and neighborhood schools as participants in wetland, prairie and savanna restoration and stewardship.

Park trees, shrubs and lawns already evoke an image of nature in the midst of asphalt, brick and concrete. The goal of the P.U.R.E. program is to affirm even more vividly nature's presence in Chicago's neighborhoods. We are seeking to redefine what is nature and what is a park. Wetland, prairie and savanna restorations or creations in neighborhood parks become the focus for participation, education and stewardship. Given the opportunity to learn the values, functions, restoration and management needs of these ecologically significant areas, community residents and students will realize their own ability to make their neighborhood park an ecologically vital and biologically diverse environment. Once linked to natural processes occurring within their own neighborhood, community residents and students will feel more connected to the natural heritage of the Chicago region and its relevancy to their everyday life.

How P.U.R.E. Began

The P.U.R.E. Program began with a recognition that the living landscape of Chicago's parks was as much an educational resource as the classroom instruction offered in the park's field house. The landscape also offered new opportunities in recreation if we extended the meaning of recreation beyond team sports. It was evident that more traditional views on the landscape and its value to community residents had to be enlarged. The P.U.R.E. Program is an attempt at further recognizing the value of Chicago Park District's land resource and the varied landscapes it contains.

The initial phase of the P.U.R.E. Program was a city-wide inventory to identify park sites which could be ecologically upgraded to include those species and communities native to the Chicago region.

Approximately 30 park sites were identified, analyzed and evaluated in terms of restoration feasibility and educational potential. Within the context of a five-year plan, six sites were scheduled for ecological restoration, reconstruction or enrichment each year. Except for the original prairie remnant in Marquette Park, the essential limitations of scale and impaired hydrology informed our efforts and focus. With very high quality habitat only likely in the long term, we immediately focused on the thousands of park users which make Chicago parks essential to the city's fabric. Recognizing the desire of many park users to participate in the management of their neighborhood park, the initiative in ecological restoration became a program in educational outreach and environmental stewardship.

8 Illinois Parks & Recreation March/April 1995


Collaborations & Partnerships

While initiated by the Chicago Park District, P.U.R.E. was, from inception, a program of collaboration and partnerships. Funding and technical assistance were provided by the Urban Resources Partnership, a consortium of government agencies. They include the Forest Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, the Natural Resource Conservation Service, and Chicago Department of the Environment.

The educational outreach became a collaboration of the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium, the Museum of Science and Industry, and the Academy of Sciences working with the Chicago Park District and the Department of the Environment. The outcome of this collaboration is a series of teacher training workshops and field demonstrations providing instruction in various aspects of restoration ecology, including ecosystem functions, components, values and restoration techniques. Future workshops will focus on monitoring, interpretation and management. Simultaneously, community-focused workshops, update meetings and site visits are part of the first phase of an extensive neighborhood outreach.

The Projects

During this first year the project focus is primarily wetlands and prairies. The ecosystem values and functions that will be stressed vary according to site issues and characteristics. In the Gompers Park Wetland reconstruction, water storage and flood control are the key issues. At the lagoon edge in Washington and Garfield Parks, increased biodiversity and wildlife habitat are the goals of the wetland expansion. At Marquette prairie, the goal is species richness and expansion, while at the Jackson Park prairie, reclamation of a former Nike missile site is the challenge.

Participation & Activities

Site participation and activities vary according to restoration requirements. Community residents and students will be doing all or a combination of the following: soil sampling, water quality testing, planting, sowing seed, collecting seed, seeding, mapping, monitoring species populations and distribution, interpretation, and programming.

We are currently establishing success criteria for the P.U.R.E. Program. In addition to ecologically based performance standards, there are less quantifiable issues relevant to the community and neighborhood schools. Does the program further community rebuilding and empowerment? Does it enable another generation of citizens to become advocates for a more ecologically dynamic and diverse environment?

Geri Weinstein is the Director of Landscape Policy for the Chicago Park District.


Illinois Parks & Recreation March/April 1995 9


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