The Transformation of Big Marsh Is Here

August 05, 2016

Dear Friends,

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.

  • Big Marsh Birds

Probably more remarkable to me, considering the environmental degradation that the park district began with, is the (seemingly) sudden return this spring and summer of hemi-marsh bird species. This spring, birder Sam Burckhardt observed 2 yellow-headed blackbirds on the shoreline, a species last observed at Big Marsh in 1993. Controlling the water levels and eradicating the phragmites at the park has brought back a habitable shoreline for an astonishing variety of birds. Here's a sample list of other bird observations at Big Marsh posted to Cornell University's eBird.org since May:

  • Osprey
  • Great Horned Owl
  • Bald Eagle
  • Marbled Godwit
  • American Wigeon
  • Mallard
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Killdeer
  • Spotted Sandpiper
  • Solitary Sandpiper
  • Greater Yellowlegs
  • Lesser Yellowlegs
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Herring Gull
  • Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  • Tree Swallow
  • Barn Swallow (American)
  • American Robin
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Song Sparrow
  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Red-winged Blackbird

For birds as much as any species, if you build it, they will come. What's difficult to wrap my head around is that the Chicago Park District built this out of a century's worth of environmental neglect.

Bill Kurtis observed that if the Chicago Park District and Friends of Big Marsh could successfully bring forth a park from the slag fields of the southeast side, it would show that we shouldn't write off any land, anywhere, as irredeemable. We're seeing that proof develop before our eyes. It's an exciting and rewarding time to be a Friend of Big Marsh.

Thanks for reading,

Jay Readey

Interim Executive Director
Friends of Big Marsh
(773) 818-0260