USACE Chicago District started, completed 20 restoration projects to date with Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

Published March 5, 2021
Ravine 8

Ravine 8

Horlick Dam

Horlick Dam

Burnham Prairie

Burnham Prairie

by Vanessa Villarreal, USACE Chicago District, Public Affairs Office

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is one of 16 federal agencies participating in the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) to protect and restore the Great Lakes. Started in 2010, it has already made major strides in cleaning up EPA-designated areas of concern, stopping the spread of invasive species, and restoring fish and wildlife habitat throughout the Great Lakes watershed.

USACE does not provide grants with GLRI funds, but uses them to plan, design, and construct restoration projects in collaboration with states and other nonfederal partners. With the first three years of GLRI funds, USACE has started or completed construction of 20 restoration projects.

USACE Chicago District is currently implementing a variety of GLRI restoration projects within the Lakes Michigan watershed:

The Fort Sheridan Ravine and Coastal Section 506 Great Lakes Fishery and Ecosystem Restoration (GLFER) project restored 207 acres of four main ravines (McCormick, Hutchinson, Schenk, and Scott), bluff, dunes, lacustrine habitat, and riparian woodlands. The goal was to bring resilience and connectivity to coastal natural habitats and restore historical native plant communities along 2.75 miles of Lake Michigan. The five-year construction contract for Phase 1 was completed in November of 2020, in partnership with the following nonfederal entities: Lake County Forest Preserve District, Openlands, City of Lake Forest, and Lake Forest Open Lands Association. Construction of Phase I was completed in November 2020, with post construction monitoring planned through 2025. Installation of underwater reefs was completed on Sept. 3, 2020.  The contractor will continue annual observational monitoring of the reef structures and sediment through 2024.

The River Riparian Connectivity and Habitat Restoration study area consisted of three contiguous parks that straddle the Chicago River: Ronan Park (13 acres), River Park (30 acres) and Legion Park (50 acres). All three parks are leased to, maintained, and managed by the Chicago Park District (CPD), but are currently owned by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD). Benefits resulting from this project include fish passage, fish habitat, migratory bird habitat, and restoring about 49 acres of Eurasiatic weed thickets to native Oak Savanna.

A five-year base construction contract was awarded in September 2017. The base contract included removing the concrete channel and small dam near River Park on the North Branch of the Chicago River. The dam and concrete channel have been completely removed and the channel replaced with natural riverine substrates of boulder, cobble, gravel, and sand. A contract option has been awarded to complete site restoration and native plantings at River Park. Erosion control was completed to grade the slopes to be less steep to permit easier access to the riverbank for park visitors. A retaining wall and stone toe were installed at point where there was insufficient space for full grading efforts Native seeding of the riverbank and adjacent uplands was completed to create native habitat within the project area. Remaining activities will focus on ensuring the establishment of native plant communities and controlling invasive plants. Work will be completed in fall 2022.

The Ravine 8 project, located in Highland Park, Illinois, includes a study that will investigate the restoration of five acres of ravine and defragmentation of the stream so Lake Michigan fishes can use it for spring spawning and juvenile nursery habitat. A five-year construction contract was awarded in September 2015. The project reached physical completion in summer 2020, and was turned over to the nonfederal sponsor, the City of Highland Park, in fall 2020.

The Jackson Park ecosystem restoration project was completed and turned over to the nonfederal sponsor, the Chicago Park District, in 2020. The park resides between 56th Street to the north and 67th Street to the south. The study area consists of various natural area parcels, all owned by the Chicago Park District, within Jackson Park. The feasibility study was approved in June 2014, a Project Partnership Agreement signed in August 2014, and a five-year construction contract awarded in September 2014. The collaboration between USACE, Chicago Park District, Project 120 (a nonprofit), Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (merged into IDNR in 2017), Heritage Landscapes (an Olmsted expert), and community representatives enabled a successful Jackson Park GLFER ecosystem restoration project of Olmsted Park.

The Jeorse Park Beach Section 506 Great Lakes Fishery and Ecosystem Restoration (GLFER) project includes restoring 14.8 acres of beach and dunes, introducing approximately 1 acre of native plantings to an existing breakwater, and constructing four submerged rock reef structures as aquatic habitat. The goal is to restore self-sustaining native plant communities on shore and improve degraded hydrodynamic and biological processes within the near shore areas of Jeorse Park Beach in East Chicago, Indiana.

A five-year construction contract was awarded on Sept. 30, 2016, to Foundation Mechanics, a women-owned small business. On-site construction began with invasive plant treatment and removal in May 2017. Cobble reefs were installed for fish habitat, earth moving and sand placement was done to create dunes, and breakwater filling was completed over the summer of 2017. Initial planting of native species occurred in spring 2018. A pedestrian safety rail was also constructed along the breakwater in 2019. Most of the heavy construction is complete with remaining activities, including establishment to support native plantings, planned through 2021.

The Burnham Prairie Restoration project is a 93-acre site of which 80-acres are a State of Illinois Nature Preserve owned by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. It’s located in the Southeast corner of Cook County within Burnham, Illinois, one mile south of Chicago and one mile west of the Indiana state line. A five-year construction contract was awarded in September 2011, and construction was completed in fall 2016. The five-year post construction monitoring phase was completed in fall 2020, confirming that all goals and objectives for this project were met.

The project restored 93 acres of marsh, sedge meadow, savanna, wet prairie, and wet-mesic prairie. The site's hydrology has been restored with the construction of a berm to prevent floodwaters from impacting groundwater-fed wetlands. The incorporation of soil amendments in conjunction with the reduction of floodwaters reduces the deposition and retention of excessive nutrients. Additional restoration measures included the removal of invasive species, clearing invasive trees and shrubs within degraded prairies, prescribed burns, seeding and planting plugs of native species, and the installation of fencing. 

The Ravine 10 study in Highland Park, Illinois, seeks to naturalize the ravine stream by removing man-made debris and utilizing small boulder/cobble structures to induce improved stream morphology and substrates. The project would also include the removal of non-native invasive plants and the reestablishment of native ravine and bluff plant communities. Work will follow Highland Park’s steep-slope ordinance and will be primarily limited to the stream channel easement and publicly-owned properties of Moraine and Clinton parks. A Detailed Project Report was approved in July 2020.

The Horlick Dam study area is in the immediate vicinity of the Horlick Dam on the Root River in Racine, Wisconsin. The Root River drainage area upstream of the dam is approximately 198 square miles, encompassing portions of Waukesha, Milwaukee, Kenosha, and Racine counties. The Horlick Dam specifically resides on the Root River at river mile 5.3, or 5.3 miles upstream of Lake Michigan.

Horlick Dam blocks fish passage to 160.2 miles of upstream river and tributary habitat, and 6,176 acres of wetland habitat. The goal for this project is to restore riverine connectivity to the Root River watershed, and to restore riverine habitat within the reach affected by Horlick Dam. Objectives are to reestablish quality and connectivity of riverine and riparian habitats. The Federal Interest Determination was approved in July 2020. The feasibility study has been initiated and is scheduled for completion in 2021.

The Kinnickinnic River project’s goal is to restore and protect the aquatic ecosystem in selected reaches of the Kinnickinnic River. The objective of ecosystem restoration is to improve degraded ecosystem structure, function, and dynamic processes to a less degraded, more natural condition, and restore fish and wildlife habitat and associated diversity.

The Kinnickinnic River originates in central Milwaukee County and flows approximately eight miles in an easterly direction to its confluence with the Milwaukee River. The Milwaukee River then empties immediately into Lake Michigan. The project reach, located entirely in the city of Milwaukee, begins at the outlet of the Jackson Park Tunnel, and extends approximately 5,800 linear feet downstream to South 27th Street.

In partnership with the Metropolitan Milwaukee Sewerage District, a feasibility study was completed to investigate and recommend an aquatic ecosystem restoration and protection project that improves the quality of the environment, is in the public interest, and is cost effective. The Detailed Project Report was approved in June 2017.