Chicago’s lakefront was once home to wetlands, sand dunes and meadows. The region teemed with aquatic and terrestrial life. However, industrialization along the Illinois Lake Michigan shoreline forced these habitats out. After several decades of industrial growth, Illinois no longer contains these awe- inspiring landscapes. However, low lake levels are allowing Chicagoans to get a glimpse of these ecosystems that once graced the Illinois shoreline.
Nature is making a comeback in Chicago! A sand dune, which is believed to have been forming for the past six to eight years, has been identified on Montrose Point, a beach in the Chicago Parks system. Dune formation is a slow, ongoing process that is dictated by wind and water movement of sand particles. The emergence of these urban dunes serves as a showcase for the geological processes that shaped Chicago’s original shoreline. According to Nicole Ott, Habitat Coordinator with the Lake Michigan Federation, “the identification of these fragile formations supports the Federation’s philosophy that people and nature can coexist in urban areas.”
The lakefront is also supporting new plant life. This may be happening because lower lake levels are allowing fore dune habitat to emerge. Lake Michigan’s current low water levels have been a source of concern for many of those interested in the health of the lake. But the appearance of unique dune plants suggests that lower lake levels may not necessarily be detrimental. They may be enhancing biodiversity. Current research indicates that Great Lakes levels cycle between extreme highs and lows every 160 years. Within these large fluctuations, smaller cycles occur on a micro-scale about every thirty years. Currently, the Great Lakes are at a peak in the micro cycle but on a downward trend in the macro cycle. The arrival of new habitat demonstrates that the cyclical behavior and adaptability of nature can be appreciated in urban areas.