The weather was cool but sunny for yesterday's annual Chicago River Day. We met up with friends at Horner Park this year to pick up trash along the river bank. Horner Park has always been a bit of a disappointing park for me because a long chain link fence separates the main part of the park from the river. The park has nice ball fields but the river bank is steeply eroded and crowded with weed trees. We didn't find as much trash as I expected, if you don't count the glass shards, pottery and bricks emerging from the banks that betray that this park was once a landfill. And our clean-up team leader told us not to bother picking the invasive garlic mustard and buckthorn (always so satisfying to pull them!) so our impact on the cleanup seemed rather small.
The exciting news, however, is that Horner Park will be undergoing a massive restoration this year. The steep banks and the garlic mustard and buckthorn and that rusty fence are going to be removed by the Army Corps of Engineers, as outlined in a report created for the Horner Park Advisory Council.
The Army Corps will regrade the banks at a shallower angle and build several vernal pool wetlands to help improve drainage of the site and provide habitat for native vegetation and amphibians. In the river, the shallower banks will create improved underwater habitat for fish. The steep manmade banks of the river provide few shallow places for plants or cover for fish to hide or feed.
Horner Park is a perfect place to do a habitat restoration like this. Directly across the river we could see lots of volunteers working on the Riverbank Neighbors Trail, a beautiful restoration project by neighborhood volunteers who replanted the riverside with native flowers. The project is wonderful, but the steep bank between river and houses is so narrow in places that the houses may be in danger of falling in, unless the bank is reinforced with another layer of concrete riprap. Here in Horner Park there is plenty of room to grade the bank back at a shallower angle and create a beautiful park with walking paths along the water.
There were many other events all over town for Chicago River Day, such as the season opening of the Bridgehouse Museum with an "adopt a fish" program to release baby bluegills.
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is also highlighting the river in a series of performances of music inspired by rivers and nature. On Chicago River Day the Civic Orchestra played an impromptu concert planned for Pioneer Square near the river, although rain drove them indoors to a nearby shopping mall, until they were forced to leave by security guards. We just missed seeing them!