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Washington Park Will Add Thousands Of Trees Under Nonprofits' Plan

By Sam Cholke | September 28, 2016 5:56am | Updated on September 30, 2016 11:50am
 Project 120 and Openlands are planning to add thousands of trees in Washington Park in the next 10 years.
Project 120 and Openlands are planning to add thousands of trees in Washington Park in the next 10 years.
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University of Chicago

WASHINGTON PARK — Two nonprofits are committing to add thousands of trees in Washington Park over the next 10 years.

Openlands and Project 120 on Saturday are starting a plan to replant trees to restore tree canopy envisioned by the park’s designer, Frederick Law Olmsted.

“There are thousands of trees that are missing from the Olmsted plan,” said Bob Karr, president of Project 120.

Last year, Project 120, a nonprofit working on restoration projects in Jackson and Washington parks, sent Olmsted expert Patricia O’Donnell of Heritage Landscapes to both parks to assess their condition.

In November, O’Donnell came back with a report showing there had been no significant replanting of trees in the park since the 1930s and the park now had about half the trees that were once in the park under Olmsted’s plan.

Karr said thousands of trees need to be planted, a project that he said will cost millions of dollars.

The early stages of the plan start Saturday with a volunteer effort at 10 a.m. in the park with Openlands to plant oak trees on the western edge of the park north of 55th Street between Cottage Grove Avenue and Payne Drive. There will be a free bird walk at 9 a.m. in the park before the tree-planting.

“We can fit over 1,000 new trees just to match what used to be in the park,” O’Donnell said at the time. “It’s a lot less alive, you could say, than it used to be.”

Karr said professional landscapers will also be brought in to plant additional larger trees, with more volunteer efforts also planned for the future.

He said the project will take 10 years because the new trees need to be of a range of ages and types to fulfill Olmsted’s vision.

Karr said Project 120 is currently raising money to pay for the tree planting.

The exact number of trees that will be planted has not yet been determined and Karr said a tree survey is the next step to developing a full plan for developing a full planting plan.

Washington Park is home to some of the most significant trees in the city and the only tree arboretum. The arboretum at the northwest corner of the park contains bur oaks that are older than the park itself and that Olmsted incorporated into his designs for the park.

To sign up for the volunteer tree-planting Saturday, visit the Openlands website.

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