Shoreline Restoration FAQ

Why are some of the lakes drained at the Garden?

In September 2011, the Chicago Botanic Garden and the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers' Ecosystem Restoration program began a year-long project to restore 6,400 feet of shoreline at the Garden's North Lake. This area includes the entire perimeter of the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden island as well as areas along the North Lake's western and northern shorelines.

Why did you have to drain the water?
How many gallons did you drain, and where did it go?

The North Lake's water was drained so that construction activities could be more efficiently and economically accomplished “in the dry.” Over 50 million gallons of water were initially transferred to the Garden's other lakes, and then eventually to the Skokie River.

Why are you doing this?

The North Lake shorelines are being rejuvenated to resist erosion while adding significant aquatic habitat. New shallow-water planting “shelves” will extend out into the lake, held in place by submerged berms of stone and vinyl sheet piling. The Garden's lake-water levels can rise up to five feet after significant storms, and this project's native plantings can withstand such flood-induced extremes.

The Garden's commitment to environmental stewardship extends to our waters and includes the whole ecosystem. Our programs to reduce soil erosion and nutrient runoff have a positive impact on water quality in the downstream Skokie Lagoons and Chicago River – and well beyond. The restoration project also will serve as a living laboratory for Garden conservation scientists and their colleagues studying urban water resources.

What will it look like when it is finished?

Using innovative “bioengineering” techniques, the project will use native shoreline plants – some with roots more than six feet deep — that have been carefully chosen for their ability to anchor eroding shoreline soils and withstand environmental stresses inherent to urban waterways.

In spring 2012, the Garden will plant 120,000 native plants and shrubs representing more than 200 taxa. The plantings will be installed in modest-sized “drifts” to demonstrate how native shoreline plantings can be integrated with more traditional ornamental landscapes. They will provide both form and function throughout the year, while filtering excess nutrients and enhancing habitat for frogs, turtles, fish, mussels, aquatic insects, and resident and migratory birds.

When will the project be completed?

The project is scheduled to be completed in late summer 2012. When it's finished, the Garden will have restored more than three-fourths of our 5.7 miles of lake shoreline. The Garden's shoreline enhancement program began in 1999.

How will it affect my visit to the Garden?

The shoreline project will have minimal impact on your visit to the Garden. You can still enjoy the entire Garden to take in any number of our 24 display gardens as well as the Plant Conservation Science Center and its 16,000 square-foot green roof garden, participate in our many indoor and outdoor family drop-in programs, and attend classes offered through the Regenstein School.

Please note that for visitor safety, on Mondays through Fridays the northern portion of the West Service Road is closed to pedestrian use. Look for weekday pedestrian use to return later next summer.