HYDE PARK — Wooded Island in Jackson Park is reopening on Saturday and there is a lot more that has changed about the historic island beyond the new sculpture by Yoko Ono.
On Monday, Jerry Levy, the volunteer steward for the island, showed what more than a year of the Army Corps of Engineers' $8.1 million habitat restoration has accomplished.
Levy said he hopes the new “Skylanding” statue by Yoko Ono unveiled Monday on the island attracts people back to the park and that they stay to see the transformation that the island has undergone.
One of the most obvious differences is the removal of approximately 400 of the 1,300 trees on the island, mostly invasive box elder and mulberry trees and ashes susceptible to emerald ash borer beetles.
“See how inviting this is now?” Levy said walking down one of the freshly mulched paths.
He pointed to how easy it now is to see the 250-year-old burr oak trees and their juniors, including a 150-year-old red oak.
Levy wandered down a path to where the rose garden once was when the island first opened during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. He said it’s now a prairie garden with 120,000 new plantings.
“You can’t see much of what we’ve planted, it’s gotten so overgrown,” Levy said, adding that he and other volunteers still have a lot of work to do.
Beyond the old rose garden there were still signs of where crews had hauled out the trees, though the makeshift road for the heavy machinery was turning lush and verdant again.
In the spring of 2015 when the heaviest work was underway, the island looked nearly clear cut, with massive logs strewn across the island, making many worry the crews had gone too far in their removal of trees.
But Levy said he’s been very happy with all of the work, pointing to an oak sapling that crews had gingerly avoided.
Levy said there are 120 bur oak saplings that have sprung up on the island where squirrels buried acorns. He said the crews have preserved every single sapling, and in 300 years, they may now rival some of the largest trees on the island.
The Army Corps of Engineers started in April 2015 on the project to restore the habitat of the island and install new paths leading to scenic overlooks. Though the heavy work of reshaping the coast of the lagoons and removing trees is now down, there are several years of work still ahead.
“The cool thing is they’ll be around for another three-and-a-half years,” Levy said. “They’ll have crews out every day checking on the plantings and making sure they’re watered.”
Originally, there were worries the island wouldn’t be open for five years while the plantings were established, but the Chicago Park District has allowed the island to reopen early.
Levy said that means people need to be careful and stay on the paths so as not to trample the most delicate grasses and sedges that are being planted now.
He said the island will still be off limits for fishing for the foreseeable future too as the reeds and water plants get established around the shore.
The island reopens to the public at 10 a.m. on Saturday.
Crews were able to avoid 120 bur oak saplings, which can live up to 300 years.
Jerry Levy, steward for the island, said he's very happy with the work so far, but it's not done even though visitors will be allowed back on the island.
In 2015, it looked like Wooded Island had been nearly clear cut as a third of the 1,300 trees were removed.
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