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Washington Park is Missing Half of its Trees, Olmsted Expert Says

By Sam Cholke | November 10, 2015 8:50am | Updated on November 10, 2015 10:32am
 It's clear that Washington Park needs more trees, said an Olmsted expert working on a plan with the Chicago Park District.
It's clear that Washington Park needs more trees, said an Olmsted expert working on a plan with the Chicago Park District.
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DNAinfo/Sam Cholke

WASHINGTON PARK — Washington Park needs a lot more trees, according to an expert on the park’s designer, Frederick Law Olmsted.

Patricia O’Donnell, of Heritage Landscapes, was hired by the Chicago Park District to monitor the large-scale habitat rehabilitation project at the Olmsted-designed Jackson Park and has broadened her scope to also include improving Washington Park.

At a Monday night meeting at the Washington Park Refectory, 5531 S. King Drive, she shared some of her initial findings and listened to concerns of volunteers and neighbors who use the park.

“The loss of 40-50 percent of the tress is a real negative, we need to get some trees in this park,” O’Donnell said of the decline in trees in the park since the 1930s.

She said she believed the decline was largely to do with trees not being replaced in the 380-acre park when they died or fell during storms.

O’Donnell’s comments come as the park continues to be considered for the future site for Barack Obama’s presidential library on 21 acres of the park that is the city’s only tree arboretum, which has a stand of 100-year-old burr oaks that predate Olmsted’s plans for the park.

O’Donnell, whose firm has worked on the Olmsted-designed parks and boulevard systems in Buffalo and Rochester in New York and Louisville, declined to make any comments about the potential sites for the library in Jackson or Washington parks beyond the need for more trees in Washington Park.

“The reason we’re not talking about the presidential library is because it’s happening at a whole other level,” O’Donnell said when questioned about the library by some of the crowd of approximately 40 people.

She said she had no contact with the Obama Foundation, which is charged with considering between the two sites and making a recommendation to the president.

O’Donnell over the coming months will consider the community’s comments that the park needs better habitats for wildlife, spaces for festivals and events, and better amenities for joggers, bird watchers and others using the park.

In January, O’Donnell unveiled her vision for Jackson Park based on a similar process.

The plan, which has not yet received the formal blessing of the Chicago Park District, includes cutting Cornell Drive down to two lanes from six, connecting the east and west sides of the park with a new single-lane road over Darrow Bridge and moving the driving range to the southwest corner of the park, opening up a new meadow along the lakefront.

“At 12-feet wide, the Cornell lanes are highway lanes now,” O’Donnell said.

O’Donnell’s Heritage Landscapes is consulting the Army Corps of Engineers as it continues a five-year $8.1 million restoration project that has already included some of her recommendations.

The Army Corps has built some berms along Lake Shore Drive to reduce the amount of car noise in the park and other changes at O’Donnell’s recommendation.

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