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This New South Side Lakefront Trail Is Meant To Be Quiet And Serene

By Sam Cholke | June 7, 2016 6:40am | Updated on June 10, 2016 11:54am
 A new lakefront trail is opening through a South Side bird and butterfly sanctuary.
New Lakefront Trail
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KENWOOD — The South Side is getting a new lakefront trail, but this one is far more serene than most lakefront trails. Think butterflies and songbirds.

The Chicago Park District is getting ready to open on June 18 a new hiking trail connecting Oakwood Boulevard to 47th Street through a bird and butterfly sanctuary running between the Canadian National Railroad tracks and Lake Shore Drive.

Sam Cholke had a chance to check out Chicago's latest trail.

To make it a space where more than butterflies and birds want to go, the park district and Field Museum have commissioned five teams of artists to create gathering spaces between the McCormick bird sanctuary next to McCormick Place and the Burnham Nature Sanctuary at 47th Street and Lake Shore Drive.

Some of the creations so far are familiar and yet fantastical, with one group weaving rods of willow into little bulging domes popping up through the prairie grass.

“It will look like they’re kind of emerging from the ground,” said Fo Wilson, who was overseeing the installation on Friday.

Wilson said she and artists Norman Teague and Chris Buchakjian have been working on the structures since February, figuring out where to get willow branches and how exactly to weave them into something that looks like a couch.

One certainly looks like a couch — and Wilson said it’s strong enough to sit on — but the biggest one dubbed “El Grande” looks almost like a little house, but Wilson said it’s not for people.

“We’re hoping that birds will think this is a hospitable place to rest,” Wilson said.

Farther south on the new trail past mushrooms bulging through the new woodchips and butterflies amongst the milkweed is a large statue of bird designed on the West African symbol “sankofa.”

“It’s a bird reaching back for its tail and there’s supposed to be a seed in its mouth that represents family and history,” said Arlene Turner Crawford, part of a team from the South Side Community Art Center that worked on the piece.

She said she hopes the new trail will become a space that residents of Bronzeville feel is part of the neighborhood.

Starting in 2013, the park district began clearing the area where the new sculptures now sit, sparking waves of outcry from commuters on Lake Shore Drive who thought 40 acres of trees was being clear cut.

It’s hard to see from the drive, but among the grass 125,000 new burr oak saplings are coming up where invasive buckthorn trees once grew, part of a $1.1 million project to make the strip more hospitable for the birds that migrate along the western shore of Lake Michigan.

Until now, the area has been off limits to visitors while the new plantings got established. But the park district is planning to open up the area with a big celebration on June 18.

Starting at 10 a.m., dancers from Muntu Dance Theater, Nahua Lessons and the Chicago Chinese Cultural Center’s Lion Dance Troupe will perform at the Burnham Nature Sanctuary at 47th Street and Cornell Drive.

Visitors are then able to wander along the path, with a break just east of Lake Shore Drive at 39th Street for food from noon to 1:30 p.m. provided by the Bronzeville Jerk Shack and Yum Dum.

“The objective of the Burnham Wildlife Corridor is to create healthy, vibrant and native habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife; and to meaningfully connect visitors, especially those from neighboring communities, to a revitalized public green space in ways that inspire exploration, enjoyment and stewardship of the area,” said Mike Kelly, park district superintendent and CEO, when the project was announced in March.

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