North Pond Restoration Update

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And then there were trees!  Or, more specifically, and then the trees were planted.  One big thing everyone has been waiting for is more nature to return to North Pond.  From the pictures we’ve posted and shared throughout the spring, it’s clear that many animals are returning to the pond and its shores with several types of herons, over 150 other different bird species, turtles, frogs, and more being spotted recently.  To help add to the biodiversity, and eventually provide shelter and habitat for more creatures, we recently planted 70 new native trees along the Pond’s shores, including oaks, alders, and birches. These trees are well-watered and maintained by our contractor and we’re already observing curious wildlife assessing them as future dwelling or nesting spots. Coming next are hundreds of native plant plugs that will be added to the thousands of native seeds already slowly emerging and filling in the shore.    

The native seed mix planted includes an annual cover crop that provides stability and structure during the establishment of a mix of native sedges, rushes, as well as yellow coneflower, dog-toothed daisies, Virginia irises, and Great Blue Lobelia, to name just a few of the flowering plants that will add color and beauty to the Pond’s shore. During this first season, expect to see lots of Rudbekcia hirta, or Black-eyed Susan’s.  While only one of 17 native species in the seed mix, they are a fast grower and will provide initial coverage and color this season while slower-establishing natives take root.  To put it in ecosystem restoration lingo: a restored habitat sleeps, creeps, then leaps.  It is mostly dormant in the first year of restoration, followed by slow or selected establishment by certain species in or around year two, with larger gains and much more diversity in subsequent years.  Ecological restoration is a process, and this next phase is about watching and tending as nature does her work.  

This year will also serve as an important period to establish baseline data on plants and animals as we monitor biodiversity and species abundance in years to follow.  This is a critical part of the process of adaptive management: the ongoing monitoring and assessment of system variables influences the development of future management plans and processes based on what’s being learned and observed.   As we have said throughout the North Pond Restoration Project:  our work is never done.  There is always more to do.  Natural systems are rarely stagnant and are always changing, especially a human-created one in the midst of our city’s largest park. Our care and stewardship of the Pond will continue for decades to come, in partnership with the Chicago Park District and the thousands of volunteers who make our work possible.   

To close this entry, and in the spirit of the ongoing (and sometimes unintended) aspects of ecological restoration), we’re sharing a few questions that have come our way and that you might have wondered about: 

  • Why is there algae and where did it come from?  
  •  Isn’t that why we dredged the Pond?  The short answer is yes.  Reducing algal blooms that block light and rob oxygen from other living things, was a major goal of deepening North Pond.   According to aquatic experts who manage the park district’s lagoons, the algae we are currently seeing is filamentous algae that was likely dug up and exposed during the dredge.  Just like a snow globe, we’ve ‘shaken things up,’ but it is expected that as the system settles and we remove the aquatic fencing later this year, the problem will dissipate.  If not, our adaptive management process will continue to monitor the issue and propose solutions in the future, if necessary. 
  • What’s with all the koi fish?  
  • If you spend any time starting into the shallow waters along North Pond’s shores, before too long you will catch a glimpse of at least one large orange koi, if not several.  Koi were a familiar sight at North Porth long before the restoration, left behind by countless families who outgrew their goldfish (or vice versa).  While North Pond has always had its koi, they are significantly more visible and likely more abundant too, following last year’s dredge.    

Where once North Pond was a shallow, oxygen-starved, unhealthy water body, it is now deep, clear, and recovering to become a more diverse system.  Sometimes you get what you expect, sometimes you get the unexpected, and oftentimes you may get the unintended.  It bears repeating that ecological restoration is never done.  In fixing one issue, there is invariably another piece of the puzzle that turns up.  To paraphrase John Muir, when you pull one strand of nature, you end up pulling on the whole thing.  In the case of koi at North Pond, they are now enjoying a prime habitat with no predators. These conditions are leading to more spawning, more fish, and the cycle continues.   This is another circumstance where our adaptive management technique–along with the help of our academic and field partners–will be crucial as we determine next steps in our restoration journey. 

I hope this information is helpful as we embark on the first year of post-restoration stewardship this spring. Keep those questions coming to  Thank you for your continued support in helping us help Chicago’s largest park!  

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