Chicago beach becomes more natural, attracts wildlife

Project Summary: Restoring 21 acres of sand dunes and aquatic habitat lured native plants and birds back to a Chicago beach.


Project name: 63rd Street Dune and Beach Restoration.

Location: Chicago.

Description: The 63rd Street Beach on Chicago’s waterfront was for years a barren landscape where litter was more common than plants or animals. As part of a project to restore Chicago’s Lake Michigan waterfront, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Chicago Park District transformed 21 acres of the 63rd Street Beach into a more natural landscape, with sweeping sand dunes. The project restored 14 acres of sand dunes and 7 acres of aquatic habitat. Government workers and volunteers removed invasive trees and planted native marram grasses to hold the sand that would re-establish dunes on the beach. Crews replaced non-native trees with black oaks, which have attracted more wildlife to the beach, and restored fish habitat along a jetty at the beach.  Native prickly pear cactus can now be found in the dunes. The state endangered sea rocket has established colonies in a stretch of beach between the sand dune and Lake Michigan, and the site now attracts several species of birds. Waterfowl use the beach as a stopover during migration, and several species of shorebirds have been observed at the restored beach, including the tricolored heron and the federally endangered piping plover. The Chicago Park District also modified storm water drains at the park to reduce polluted runoff and improve water quality at the beach. More than 100 volunteers helped replace invasive plants with native vegetation.

An aerial view of the 63rd Street Beach.

An aerial view of the 63rd Street Beach in Chicago, Illinois.

Approximate cost of project: $969,000, a portion of which was provided by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Resource challenges addressed: Invasive species, fish and wildlife habitat, polluted runoff and water quality.

Key partners (public and private): Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Chicago Park District, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and numerous volunteers who planted native vegetation at the beach.

Types of jobs created: Landscape architects, biologists, ecologists, heavy equipment operators and general laborers.

Results and accomplishments: The restored beach is now a popular stopover for migratory birds. Rare plants and animals also can be found at the beach, included the state endangered sea rocket and the federally endangered piping plover.

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Originally Published: August 7, 2013