The 2016 Calumet Quarter Students and Faculty Help Restore Montrose Point

The Calumet Quarter Staff and Students with NFL Green, Verizon Wireless, and the Chicago Park District post planting.

The Calumet Quarter Staff and Students with NFL Green, Verizon Wireless, and the Chicago Park District post planting.

On Tuesday, April 26, many of the Calumet Quarter students and faculty had the privilege of working with Jack Groh from NFL Green, Steve Van Dinter from Verizon, Jason Steger, Chicago Park District Natural Areas Manager, and Forrest Cortes, Chicago Park District Community Stewardship Program Manager, to plant over 1000 native plants in Lincoln Park’s Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary. The goal for the planting was to remove invasive species and replace them with native ones in a demonstration garden at Montrose Point located just north of Montrose Harbor, a popular migratory birding location. This garden will serve as an education site and an example to visitors on how to grow native plants in their own yards.

Students, Steve Van Dinter, and a CPD worker planting seedlings.

Students, Steve Van Dinter, and a CPD worker planting seedlings.

Montrose Point is now a well-known birding destination in Chicago. According to the Lake Cook Audubon, “Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary can boast in having over 300 species recorded including some of the rarest birds ever recorded in the state.” [1] Montrose Point, however, was not always a bird haven. During the Cold War, in the 1950’s, Montrose Point was a NIKE missile site.[2] This was only one site in a ring of missile silos designed to protect the United States’ center for steel production against aerial Soviet attacks. They were built in response to the Soviets’ new, long-range bomber planes that “…made the American heartland equally vulnerable [in comparison to the coasts]”.[3] The NIKE system gradually lost funding and sites began to close around 1965. The missile center at Montrose Point closed in June 1967 to save money, according to a Tribune article from that year. The site was then fenced off and the trees along the fence grew wild for a period of 30 years before the Chicago Park District and U.S. Forest Service acquired the site.

When Montrose Point was first acquired it was in rough condition and had few native plant species. In 1997, when planning for the site first began, according to Paul Gobster of the U.S. Forest Service, “The hedge just grew up through benign neglect of that landscape. If you were to do something with knowledge of native plant materials, you could probably do a lot better job.”[4] Fast-forward 19 years and that’s exactly what NFL Green, Verizon, the Chicago Park District, and the University of Chicago Calumet Quarter teamed up to do.

An aerial view which plants were planted where in the Montrose Point demonstration garden.

An aerial view which plants were planted where in the Montrose Point demonstration garden.

Jason Steger and Forrest Cortes coordinated the planting efforts on Tues., April 26 as a “Demonstration Garden” to show park visitors that it’s easy to grow beautiful and native plants in their own yard. The planted area was broken up into, “23 small demonstration areas—each one dedicated to a different native Illinois species.”[5] When Steger was approached about providing a project for the NFL Draft he immediately thought of Montrose Point. According to Steger, “It’s something that we’ve had planned for a long time now. We knew that we were ready to move in and push the restoration of Montrose Point one step closer to completion.”[6] The planting, though chilly, was a success. All of the plots of land were planted very quickly and we even had time left to help the Park District put mulch on part of the Montrose Point trail system.

A view of the finished demonstration garden

A view of the finished demonstration garden

NFL Green was founded 23 years ago at the Superbowl in Atlanta[7]. Coincidentally, the same number of plots were planted. Due to the infrastructure of the NFL, the organization has little power to enforce green policies across the league. Instead, NFL Green organizes environmentally friendly programs and initiates for the NFL Pro-Bowl, NFL Draft, and the Superbowl. NFL Green hopes that these green initiatives will encourage franchises to implement similar programs for their regular season games. Verizon was the first major NFL sponsor to partner with NFL Green. They have recently been partnering on environmental restoration projects, Both Groh and Van Dinter plan on funding more restoration projects at NFL events.

On behalf of the students of the Calumet Quarter, thank you to the Chicago Park District and Mayor Emanuel for the opportunity to be involved with the planting and to NFL Green and Verizon for funding this restoration project and your efforts to make an impact on the environment. This student opportunity was also made possible with the support and connections provided by the University of Chicago Program on Global Environment (PGE) and Chicago Studies Course Connections.

[1] http://www.lakecookaudubon.org/Montrose_Point.html

[2] http://uptownhistory.compassrose.org/2010/08/nike-missile-c-03-montrose-point.html

[3] https://www.wbez.org/shows/curious-city/what-happened-to-nike-missile-sites-around-chicago/b09ed69c-cdf0-4382-a7ac-75480a3d4cb7

[4] http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1997-11-28/news/9711280205_1_bird-watchers-chicago-audubon-society-missile-site

[5] http://eaf.uchicago.edu/announcements/20160426/eaf-and-calumet-quarter-participate-in-ecological-restoration-project/

[6] Jason Steger of Chicago Park District

[7] Jack Groh of NFL Green