WOODLAWN — Before the heavy work of reforesting Wooded Island in Jackson Park could begin, workers had to drain some of the park's lagoon.
That led to some interesting — although not that unexpected — discoveries lurking within the lagoon.
Crews in recent weeks found everything from guns and ammunition to shopping carts, car bumpers, light posts, tents, a car and just about everything in between, said Louise McCurry, Jackson Park advisory council president.
"They pulled out a car, knives, axes," she said. "People used it as a place to drop stuff, and most of it would simply sink."
The cleanup of the park's lagoon was done as part one of a four-phase, $8 million restoration of Jackson Park headed up by the Army Corps of Engineers.
Not much of what was found is of much historical value, McCurry said, except maybe for some coins and a streetlight that looks old. That could be because the lagoon undergoes clean-up operations regularly, she said.
It used to be, she said, that volunteers could just cast fishing lines into the lagoon and come out with some garbage. But because the lagoon and the surrounding area was so covered in vegetation, the garbage got caught in difficult-to-get-out places, she said.
There is much less garbage and considerably less vegetation by the lagoon now, however. That's because the restoration project is fully underway. Some local residents got a chance to tour the under-construction area on a recent Saturday morning.
About 30 residents saw the early stages of the work being done, which included dredging the lagoon of some of its sand to reslope the shoreline and replanting of natural plants near the lagoon.
The Army Corps of Engineers said the lagoon area could be closed for as long as five years. But Lauren Umek, project manager with the Chicago Parks District, said the city and project leaders hope it will open much earlier than that.
The island's walking paths could be done as early as next summer, said Umek, who led the tour of the lagoon area on a recent Saturday. At that time, residents could be welcomed back, but only if they are well-behaved, she said.
"They want people out here, but if people are destroying the place, disturbing the new plants, then they have the right to close it," Umek said.
It's hoped that a restored Jackson Park lagoon will not only benefit the historic park, but also will encourage residents to stop treating such a beautiful site as a dumping ground, McCurry said.
"The goal is to make a place where you can have a one-on-one experience with nature so people know how important it is to preserve nature," she said.
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