If you’re looking for a great bike ride, or a nice summer stroll, head out, right now, before it’s too late, to our fair city’s lakefront trail and point toward the South Side. By car, you should park at 31st St. Beach. From just south of McCormick Place to 39th St., the Burnham Centennial Prairie restoration project is in dazzling full bloom.
The genesis of this project begins with the Chicago Park District, which started in 2009 planting native prairie species on 36 acres of the lakefront that had previously been mostly just turf grass. District biologists were looking to attract both birds and humans.
For birds, millions of which pass through here on their migratory paths, the plants provide a prodigious source of good food, while they rest on the lakeshore before flying off to their eventual destinations. Other acreage has already been set aside, including the McCormick Bird Sanctuary,
which is just north of the prairie project, on the south side of McCormick Place. To attract humans, the park district went with a seed mix that includes more showy flowers than a typical prairie, the district’s Natural Areas Manager Zhana Yermakov told Outdoor Illinois. “People like flowers,” she said. “So, for a public that may be unfamiliar with natural areas, we felt it was important to provide more color throughout the growing season.”
Now, I’m partial to the South Side Lakefront Trail. It’s quieter, has more open space, nicer vistas, much less traffic on the path and far fewer of those sleekly clad, young, mostly men, on high-end bikes, who seem to think they are racing for a spot in the Tour de France.
But if you’re sticking to the North Side, there’s a really nice, somewhat smaller patch of prairie restoration right of the Lakefront Trail, just north of the delightful little Peace Garden entryway, through the tunnel that gets you under Lakeshore Drive at the east end of Buena Ave. Take it in, then head east to the Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary. It’s got a lot of the same flowers, and many species are in bloom right now.
Though the Tribune and Sun-Times have both written about the prairie restoration efforts, neither has reported on the spectacular success that is now showing its colors. The specialists warn us it takes 3-5 years to develop a prairie, and they seem to be right on time.
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