The network of ravines that dominates the northern Illinois Lake Michigan shoreline is at times unrecognizable due to the intense development that has drastically changed the region. But at least one community is using this natural feature to its advantage.
The city of Waukegan is built on a ravine landscape. Several small streams gather water that runs down the ravines and channel it into the Waukegan River. The river is one of only two that naturally flow into Lake Michigan from Illinois. While the Waukegan is hardly mighty by Great Lakes standards, the narrow waterway is deep enough to provide habitat for larger lake fish.
Development has hidden much of the Waukegan River system from view. Roadways have been constructed over the water, and the river has been channeled through pipes in several locations. But the Waukegan Park District is making big strides in repairing past damages.
Many of the city’s parks contain wetlands that have historically fed the Waukegan River, but some have been filled to create parkland. The district is working in several locations to remove this fill and restore natural wetland function. A current example is the Roosevelt Park project, in which a major outfall will discharge stormwater in a controlled manner into a wetland before feeding into the Waukegan River.
The long-term goal is re-establishing natural character to much of the Waukegan River and its associated ravines and wetlands. This will require continued wetland restoration and removal of the construction that has obscured and channelized the river.
Of course, much of the success will be dependent upon funding and community dedication to the process. The Lake Michigan Federation is working with city agencies and local groups to enhance volunteer involvement and emphasize the need to conserve this unique river.