Continuing low water levels in the Great Lakes have opened up new conservation and restoration opportunities along Chicago’s shoreline. In the summer of 2000, the Federation reported the establishment of a small dune on the north side of the city. Plant species such as the lake shore rush that had not been seen in decades were found near one of Chicago’s public beaches. The Chicago Park District now protects this dune as a natural area.
Reclamation of the landscape by sand dunes is happening elsewhere in the city on a considerably greater scale. Thanks to a combination of low lake levels and “benign neglect”, a large portion of Rainbow Beach on Chicago’s southeast side has developed into an emerging dune.
A complete species inventory is yet to be performed on the site, but we are already aware of the presence of two rare plant species. Marram grass (or beach grass), an Illinois endangered species, is abundant on the dune. Several examples of Illinois threatened sea rocket have also been found.
The dune lies just east of property owned by the Chicago Department of Water. The agency has agreed to work with the Federation and the Chicago Park District to expand the dune onto their property. Current plans for the site include cleanup and removal of undesirable plant species, expansion of the system to the south and west using native plantings, and a coordinated outreach effort to the community to increase public awareness of the natural resource in their backyard. The Federation plans to use the dune as an outdoor laboratory for school and community groups who otherwise may not have an opportunity to see this type of ecosystem “in action.”