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Chicago's Tallest Hill, a 'Mountain of Garbage,' Is Overrun With Deer

By Justin Breen | May 18, 2015 7:49am | Updated on February 22, 2016 6:09pm

SOUTH DEERING — The tallest nonstructural point in Cook County has dozens of residents.

But those dwellers on the South Deering-based Paxton II landfill aren't people, they're a large herd of deer that makes the 170-foot-high hill its home.

"There are dozens of them up there," said Tom Shepherd of the Southeast Environmental Task Force, which conducts an annual 7½-mile walk from Lake Calumet to Wolf Lake to in part count the large animals on the city's Southeast Side.

A deer at the top of the Paxton II landfill in South Deering. [Steve Buchtel]

"Some of the people on that walk can't resist going up on the hill," Shepherd added. "And usually the deer there are laying in the grass because they're never bothered."

The 58-acre former landfill contains all sorts of waste, including slag from steel mills. In 1999, the state pumped 2.5 million gallons of contaminated liquids into the landfill, and the following year the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency planted prairie grasses.

Justin Breen discusses why the deer make the hill their home:

Lawnmowers can't navigate the steep slopes, so in the 2000s, several goats were placed on the hill to eat the grass. When coyotes and wild dogs began hunting the goats, sheep dogs were added to the mix to keep the predators at bay, Shepherd said.

The goats have been gone for at least the last five years, leaving the hill and surrounding land, which includes the future Big Marsh Bike Park, to the deer and healthy coyote population, Shepherd said.

The deer are "curious creatures, but usually they're very timid," said Shepherd.

Shepherd's group conducts tours of the landfill, plus other areas of the Southeast Side. For more information, click here.

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