Temporary fencing outlines the new woodchip trails in McKinley Park's natural area expansion under development.

McKinley Park Growing Natural Area; Community Help Needed for Contest, Planting Day

Published April 3, 2018

As part of the City of Chicago's initiative to expand natural areas to 2,020 acres by the year 2020, McKinley Park is getting a big makeover on its eastern edge. Native plants, with animals following, will fill five acres, quintupling the natural area that currently only hugs the lagoon.

The McKinley Park Advisory Council is spearheading efforts toward stewardship and fund-raising for the new natural area, including the National Recreation and Park Association's Meet Me at the Park Earth Month campaign. In April, fans of McKinley Park can submit a vote each day for the new natural area, with the winner receiving $20,000 in funding. Click here to vote for McKinley Park's natural area project.

Business Grows Here - Space - Resources - Community

Business Grows Here - Space - Resources - Community

The advisory council is also reaching out to all friends and supporters for their much-needed help at the Earth Day Planting event from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, April 22. This day will be dedicated to getting plantings in the ground for the new natural area, and all hands are needed to help cover the expanded acreage, said Forrest Cortes, who contracts to the Chicago Park District as community stewardship program manager for The Nature Conservancy.

"Volunteers will help us install over 25 species of perennial prairie plants, including grasses, sedges and forbs (flowering herbaceous plants)," said Cortes. "We’ve selected a planting palette that will not only provide visual interest for human visitors, but will also support wildlife communities throughout the year."

The natural area expansion project is already underway, with the fall 2017 removal of turf grass and some fencing, and the establishment of mulch and gravel trail systems. Ongoing stewardship for control of invasive species will follow the Earth Day Planting event, with installation of native trees and shrubs taking place in fall 2018.

"While the existing lagoon natural area already hosts a range of waterfowl and common neighborhood birds, we hope the expanded prairie habitat will entice more songbirds and charismatic pollinators, like the monarch butterfly," said Cortes. "To this end, we’re planting grassy seed sources like little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), flowering host plants such as butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) and nectar sources like Prairie Blazingstar (Liatris pycnostachya)."

In addition to the trail system, the project includes a stump circle as a community gathering point. A prospective natural play area for children may be located in the northeast corner of the natural area, Cortes said.

The expansion of the natural area will also help the park "work for the community," Cortes said. "The installation of more native plants with deep root systems will help to retain and filter storm water during periods of high precipitation, and will also provide human benefits in the form of improved air quality by helping to offset local carbon emissions."

McKinley Park Natural Area Expansion MapA map of McKinley Park's natural area expansion illustrates its dramatic increase in size.

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Business Grows Here - Space - Resources - Community