Jackson Park to Get Overhaul From Army Corps of Engineers

By Sam Cholke on December 11, 2013 8:09am 

 Parks advocates are worried an Army Corps of Engineers plan for Jackson Park could jeopardize the park designer's original vision.
Parks advocates are worried an Army Corps of Engineers plan for Jackson Park could jeopardize the park designer's original vision.
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DNAinfo/Sam Cholke

HYDE PARK — The Army Corps of Engineers is planning to invest millions of dollars to rehabilitate wildlife habitats in Jackson Park, but park advocates are worried about the vagueness of the plans they’ve been shown.

“The goal of this proposed ecosystem restoration project is to restore native plant communities to provide critical habitat structure and food for native butterflies, fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals and migratory water fowls and songbirds,” said Sarah Gross, a spokeswoman for the Army Corps of Engineers.

The project to remove invasive species of plants is funded by the federal government and the Chicago Park District  and is expected to begin next year and take five years to complete.

“We’ve been trying to get it done for a while, but needed extra help,” said Louise McCurry, president of the Jackson Park Advisory Council.

Parks advocates invited into a closed meeting with the Corps' planners said the project lacked any real details about what would be done in the historic park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.

“They didn’t really have anything, no details at all, and you want details with a historic park like this,” said Erma Tranter, president of Friends of the Parks.

Parks advocates are worried that the project is similar to a 2011 proposal for Washington Park, also designed by Olmsted, which they said at the time ruined the vistas critical to the design of the park.

“Nobody at the meeting felt they had the mechanisms in place to ensure the original plan for Jackson Park would be followed,” Tranter said.

Tranter, McCurry and others are urging the Army Corps to hire an expert on Olmsted parks to work on the project.

Olmsted designed some of the country’s most iconic parks, including Central Park in New York, and his influence continues to be a significant draw to tourists to the two South Side parks he designed, Washington and Jackson parks.

“Major consideration for restoration plan development includes preserving Olmsted's historic aesthetics and minimizing tree removal — limiting removal only to smaller and highly invasive and sickly species, such as Norway Maple and Green Ash,” Gross from the Army Corps said.

Another fight similar to the one over Jackson Park could mean a significant loss of funding for the park. Washington Park lost $3.8 million in habitat-restoration funding when parks advocates and the Army Corps couldn’t reach an agreement before a deadline for the federal funding to be used.

Gross said she could not disclose how much would be spent on Jackson Park, but parks advocates who attended the Nov. 18 meeting said the presentation suggested $3 million to $5 million would be committed.

No details are yet available on the work sites. A map given to parks advocates showed work would center around the lagoons and the southern half of the park.

McCurry said she was pushing the Army Corps to restore the beaches on the lagoons, used by ducks and other birds, that have eroded over time.

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