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Volunteers Plant Grass to Stymie Beach Erosion

By Benjamin Woodard | November 12, 2012 2:41pm

ROGERS PARK — Loyola Beach has been eroding faster than ever, so volunteers turned out in droves to plant native Marram grass in the drifting sand.

The grass will take root in a year or two and will help keep sand from blowing off the beach and into the park's fields, playground and parking lot, said Jason Steger, who works for the Chicago Park District and organized work parties on Saturday and Monday.

Steger said he and the volunteers will have planted nearly 30,000 individual chunks of the native grass along Loyola Beach by the end of the project.

Beach erosion has worsened in recent years because higher temperatures have prevented beach sand from freezing in winter months, he said, adding that the beaches are groomed during the summer, which prevents native dune grass from growing.

"People like nice, groomed beaches, so this is a compromise between the two," Steger said.

The main strip of Marram grass, measuring 15 feet wide by 330 feet long, had been planted on Saturday, while a smaller section south of the park's playground was planted Monday.

The newly planted grass will be cordoned off until the grass takes root.

Steger's friend, Anne Marie Fortner, 32, who was visiting from Ontario, Canada, was down on her hands and knees digging holes and planting grass alongside other volunteers.

Rebecca Tryba, a 21-year-old Loyola University student, was helping out in between classes. She and other students in an environmental ethics class worked both Saturday and Monday, she said.

Retired Rogers Park resident John Lamping, 72, who holds a doctorate in ecology and taught the subject at DePaul University, worked a small shovel to make holes for the grass.

Lamping lives near the beach and helped establish the protected dune grass near Pratt Pier.

"No matter how tired or achy I get," he said, "I feed off of this."