What is Big Marsh?

Park No. 564

Big Marsh is the vision for Chicago’s Park No. 564, about 20 minutes southeast of the Chicago Loop, just east of Lake Calumet. It’s 278 acres of open space, just a few acres smaller than Chicago’s Grant Park. Big Marsh shares its past with Big Steel and the unique natural history of the Calumet region. Big Marsh creates a new legacy of outdoor recreation and open space stewardship. It’s called eco-recreation.


Friends of Big Marsh is a coalition of organizations, companies, and people who support the development of Park No. 564 as an eco-recreation area that improves the physical, environmental, and economic health and wellbeing of the Calumet region. We recognize that the park’s potential extends beyond reclaiming this misused, neglected landscape for public use. Working in partnership with the Chicago Park District, we’re committed to engaging local communities so that park benefits flow to local residents, businesses and initiatives as we help develop a national eco-recreation destination. We will develop programming that:

  • Improves public health through active and passive recreation
  • Creates and operates a world-class venue for bicycle recreation that benefits all ages and abilities
  • Enhances, monitors and maintains the park’s sustainable natural habitats that allow native marsh inhabitants to return and thrive
  • Stimulates the local economy by creating education and job training opportunities, and attracting regional and national audiences to the park

About Friends of Big Marsh

Friends of Big Marsh is a coalition of organizations, companies, and people who support the development of Park No. 564 as an eco-recreation area that supports the physical, environmental, and economic health and wellbeing of the Calumet region.

  • City of Chicago
  • Chicago Park District
  • Illinois Department of Natural Resources
  • SRAM, Corp.
  • REI
  • International Mountain Bicycling Association
  • Chicago Area Bicycle Dealers Association
  • The Bonebell
  • The Chainlink
  • Trails for Illinois
  • Hitchcock Design Group


Dear Friends,

I am pleased to introduce myself as Friends of Big Marsh’s interim executive director, and to re-invite you to share in the transformation now underway on Chicago’s southeast side.

I joined Friends of Big Marsh at the end of 2015, and am thrilled to be with you during this year’s run-up to the park opening and commencement of events and activities at Big Marsh.

I have been a bike guy since I turned seven and rode endless laps around the neighborhood. I worked in a bike shop and as a bike messenger; I’ve ridden and raced mountain, cross, road and ultra distance, and have ridden bikes for touring, commuting, and utility, including transporting my son to school kindergarten through 5th grade. As a Chicago Southland resident, my commutes have criss-crossed the South Side and the Loop; my favorite route passes through Pullman just to the west of Big Marsh.

Professionally I am a lawyer and nonprofit entrepreneur, having been involved in numerous nonprofit startups. Most recently, I was Executive Director of the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law from 2010 through 2015, and I stepped away to drive investments to diverse and inclusive neighborhoods. Bringing Big Marsh to South Chicago qualifies as just such an investment.

As the park opening approaches later this year, I hope you will redouble your interest and meet me and other Friends of Big Marsh out there for an event. We need stewards, cyclists, and community leaders to be fully focused on the rich potential of Big Marsh as a resource for all of Chicago, based in the far South Side. Please don’t hesitate to contact me at jay@bigmarsh.org about ways you can plug in and develop that focus.

Thank you,

Jay Readey

Interim Executive Director

Friends of Big Marsh

Big Marsh Bike Park

Opening Fall 2016

Big Marsh Bike Park is a playground for cycling! It puts family-friendly bike trails as well as world-class venues for mountain biking, cyclocross racing, and trail riding within minutes of southeast Chicago communities, and just 20 minutes from the Chicago Loop. A local and regional attraction, the bike park is the cornerstone of Big Marsh.

Phase 1 Features

  • Multi-purpose trails for biking, walking, running
  • Tot track for the youngest riders
  • Small pump track
  • Large pump track
  • Jump lines
  • Flow trail
  • Singletrack trails
  • Cyclocross course, including Belgian stairs
  • Natural area improvements


Friends of Big Marsh

Stay connected with Big Marsh.

Park Updates

Receive up to date information on the development of Big Marsh.


Big Marsh is Almost Ready

October 07, 2016

Now, with the Park about to open, is the most important time for you to contribute to Friends of Big Marsh. We still have $30,000 to go before the end of 2016 to earn a $1 million matching grant toward the park construction costs, and we also need to raise operating funds for Friends of Big Marsh. Friends will help coordinate activities that enhance both the ecological and recreational enjoyment of Big Marsh - hikes, service days, birding groups, rides, events, parties and outreach. Friends of Big Marsh and Chicago Park District create the public-private partnership that truly elevates this special community resource.

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Big Marsh Cycling Kits - Available Again

August 30, 2016

You asked - and we listened! BIG MARSH CYCLING KITS will be available for order again for a limited time starting August 30! All proceeds will benefit Friends of Big Marsh for continued buildout of park features.

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The Transformation of Big Marsh Is Here

August 05, 2016

On a recent tour with the Chicago Park District, I was astonished to see a bike park rising out of the clay at Big Marsh.

The trail building professionals of Dirt Sculpt, responsible for the phase one bike features at the park, were in the middle of quality control checks of the entry level jump line they had just built. You and I would be so lucky to have riding jump lines as a job requirement. And we are lucky to have Dirt Sculpt building our bike park. They've built dirt event courses for Red Bull and X-Games, and bike parks around the country, and they're making great progress at Big Marsh.

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The Park is Now

June 15, 2016

I hope you saw the news in the Tribune that the Chicago Park District authorized $3.5 million for construction of Phase I to commence at Big Marsh.

This means that we will have a park! There is no definitive timeline for construction, but it is likely to be completed in calendar year 2016, with a park opening late this year.

Read More

Park Update

April 19, 2016

The Chicago Park District has sent bike park plans out to bid for a spring start to construction. This is the second time that park construction opened for bidding; last fall's bid letting attempt failed to find an acceptable bid.

Since then, the Chicago Park District and the park designers from Hitchcock Design have met with last fall's bidders to find out how to make the park a more attractive project for potential construction firms.

Read More


Let's Build Big Marsh!

Friends of Big Marsh needs to raise $2.58 million to open Phase 1 — the bike park at Big Marsh — in Fall 2016.

A million dollar challenge triples your impact — Raising nearly $2.6 million for Big Marsh takes an all-in, whole-community effort. Every contribution from $5 to $50,000 will have an impact on opening this park.

And if you give early, that impact is TRIPLED. An anonymous donor is matching every $1 donated to Big Marsh with $2 in additional funding, up to the first $500,000 we raise. A $5 donation becomes $15. A $500 donation becomes $1500 — potentially providing $1.5 MILLION for the park.

Three major partners, Chicago-based SRAM, Inc. the outdoor equipment retailer REI, and PeopleForBikes have provided early support of over $600,000. The challenge grant applies to the NEXT $500,000 we raise—this is YOUR chance to make a difference at Big Marsh!

Become a Chainring Donor — More than 200 people have already donated over $30,000 to the build the park and become a Friend of Big Marsh. That's amazing! A select few of them have decided to go a little further to become Chainring Donors.

For a gift beginning at just $500, a Chainring Donor can have a custom cut metal chainring of varying size engraved with his or her name, family name, or business name to be permanently displayed as a donor on site at Big Marsh.

With your gift, you choose to have an 8" climbing ring, a 12" middle ring, or an 18" big ring mounted to the donor wall placed in the park's main bike plaza, prominently displaying your role to transform this landscape into beautiful, healthful, sustainable outdoor recreation.

Thank You to Our Chain Ring Donors

20" Ring ($50,000+)
  • John & Jackie Bucksbaum
  • Mike Mercuri
  • REI
16" Ring ($10,000+)
  • PeopleForBikes
  • Crown Family Foundation
12" Ring ($1500+)
  • Chicago Cyclocross Community
  • The Bonebell
  • Rapha
  • xXx Racing–Athletico
  • Shupe Family
  • ABUS (in kind)
  • Bill Kurtis (in kind)
  • CAMBr
  • Iron Cycles
  • Randy Neufeld & Susan Geil
  • Weik Family
  • DuPage Cycling Foundation
  • Castelli Cycling
  • Jessica Jamieson
  • Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives
  • Skyline Manufacturing
  • Asphalt Operating Services (AOS)
  • First Choice Logistics
8" Ring ($500+)
  • Spidermonkey Cycling
  • The Chainlink (in kind)
  • Half Acre Cycling
  • BFF Bikes Racing
  • Kathy Schubert
  • Anne Alt
  • Damato Family
  • Friends of the Cal-Sag Trail
  • Chad & Genaya Sverson & Family
  • Altenburg Family
  • Elizabeth Tomlins
  • Willett Family
  • John & Sara Hays Mitchell
  • In Memory of Bill Keith
  • Vision Quest Coaching
  • Chris McAuliffe
  • Illinois Bicycle Lawyers
  • Andrew Foundation
  • South Chicago Wheelmen
  • Thomas Richie
  • Goodspeed Cycling
  • Ms. Hall and Mr. Martinez-Ordaz
  • Jeff Judge
  • Jenn Dice & Stuart Walsworth
  • Kirn/Levinson Family

You may donate here on-line, or contact us directly for larger gifts:

Jay Readey