HYDE PARK — The historic Wooded Island may look nearly clear-cut by Army Corps of Engineers crews doing restoration work in Jackson Park, but the park steward said he wishes the island had also been set on fire.
He’s also extremely happy with the work.
Wooded Island park steward Jerry Levy has been monitoring crews as one-third of the more than 1,300 trees on the island were removed and said the work has been nearly flawless.
“They may look like they don’t know what they’re doing,” said Levy, who has carefully cataloged every tree on the island. “But they are absolutely the best people available.”
He said even the smallest oak saplings, which are almost indistinguishable from any other stick on the ground in winter, were protected from the massive machinery that cleared much of the land in less than two weeks and left massive trees and a thin blanket of wood chips strewn across the island.
“They’ve intentionally and deliberately left a lot of dead trees because they know it is good for the ecosystem,” Levy said.
He said he wished the crews had also been able to do a controlled burn to help root out invasive species, but it was not part of the $8.1 million in restoration work now underway at Jackson Park.
Sam Cholke breaks down the project:
Wooded Island was a key part of the fairgrounds at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. Frederick Law Olmsted's design created a respite for people to escape the masses. The Osaka Japanese Garden created on the island for the fair remains.
Under the Army Corps plan, Wooded Island will remain relatively bare for a year longer than the rest of the 140 acres being restored to see what plants naturally spring up on the island.
Levy said he already has seen 250 oak saplings pop up and has marked as many as possible.
“I’m very proud that we did that,” Levy said. “It’s very unusual to see, oaks are very scarce in reproducing themselves.”
A bridge leads to Wooded Island for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. (Photo: The World’s Columbian Exposition: The Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, the White City Artfolio.)
He said he believes the work will have minimal impact on the flocks of migrating birds that stop in Jackson Park. He said invasive species removed from the island, like the Norway maple, are toxic to local insects and actually reduce the amount of food available to birds migrating north.
“In future years, they’ll not only come back and stay longer, but they’ll multiply because the food they need will be much more available to them,” Levy said.
The Army Corps is continuing its work on other areas of the park, removing the discarded Christmas trees, goldfish and shopping carts dumped into the lagoon and preparing to restock it with native crappies, brown bullheads, newts and mussels. Nearly 400,000 native plants are currently being grown at nurseries to be planted in the park in the spring.
In the coming weeks, crews will start work on the shores of the lagoon to restore areas that have eroded or been otherwise compromised.
Levy led a tour of the work already completed on Wooded Island Saturday.
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