The Wild Mile
The Wild Mile is an opportunity to transform an unused canal in the Chicago River into an ecological resource the entire city can benefit from. Many stretches of the Chicago River have been significantly altered and stripped of natural habitat in order to facilitate barge traffic on the river. These industries have now faded away, but they have left behind dirty relics that make ecological restoration challenging in such an urbanized environment. The goal of Urban Rivers- the Chicago based nonprofit building the Wild Mile- is to work with the realities of this industrial legacy, and develop the Goose Island canal into a mile-long floating eco-park. In this project, we are focusing on adding new artificial habitats to the canal, as we work to determine the most efficient way to forge a new ecosystem working within the restrictions of the city built up around the canal.
Our artificial wetlands, besides creating habitat and promoting ecosystem connectivity, also have the added benefit of helping to block or slow-fast top currents that are made worse by channelization and the regular removal of woody debris. Both the physical presence of the floating wetlands and their dense root systems underneath slow the surface movement enough to allow for the growth of duckweed, and even provide safe places for fish to lay their eggs and microbes and algae to grow, providing food and shelter for many different organisms important to the ecology of the river.
Our primary tool in adding habitat back to the river, our artificial floating wetlands, which can be easily anchored to any stretch of the metallic seawall in the canal. These wetlands support the local ecosystem by harboring a diverse selection of Illinois native plants, which grow hydroponically, taking up nutrients directly from the river water. These wetlands provide dual functions; they not only grow flowers, seeds, and above-ground vegetation that feed and shelter many different species of pollinators, birds, and other fauna, but they also allow the roots of the plants to grow thick underwater, providing in-stream structure to support fish and aquatic macro-invertebrates as well.
The ecological benefits are the focus of the Wild Mile, however, it is also a valuable opportunity to educate and inspire the citizens of Chicago, and encourage other cities to think differently about the future of their rivers as well.
Wild Mile website: www.wildmilechicago.org
* Project restores natural hydrologic conditions to facilitate improved capture and infiltration of surface water and groundwater recharge