Horner Park Riverfront Restoration

usace-planThe restoration of the Horner Park riverfront has finally begun. Construction fences are installed and crews have begun the ecological restoration of the ½ mile stretch of riverfront on Horner Park’s eastern boundary. The transformation will be dramatic and will take several years but patience will reward the community, the plants, and wildlife that will be drawn to the new natural asset of our riverfront.

The reasons for this restoration are several fold. The current riverbank is not in sustainable condition, it is unsafe due to its steepness, it harbors non-native and invasive plants, and it collects debris from years of neglect and inaccessibility. The area regularly attracts illicit activity, and the overgrowth creates a secluded area that some park users find threatening. In addition riverbank erosion threatens the existing plant material that has grown uncontrolled for the last fifty years. The erosion must be managed in future years, and USACE’s proposed solution is a far more proactive and ecologically sound approach than what the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District would do without this intervention.

The riverfront restoration project was initially conceived in 1999 when Mayor Daley advanced the Chicago River Corridor Development Plan for the entire Chicago River. That plan proposed that Horner Park’s riverfront would get upgraded paths, increased public access, and additional recreational opportunities. Specifically the plan called for removing the cyclone fence that prohibits public access, regrading the riverbank for safety and accessibility, and replanting the riverbank with native species.

In 2000 HPAC, with Friends of the Chicago River began a study to implement the concepts that were put forward in Mayor Daley’s Plan. This resulted in a far reaching concept that included not only public access but other recreational amenities such as an amphitheater, a boat dock, an enhanced sledding hill, stormwater runoff pools, even a windmill. The plan was unveiled to the public and received great support from them and our local elected officials. HPAC then spent the ensuing years seeking the necessary financial support to get the project started. From the outset the major contributor to the plan was the US Army Corp of Engineers. However in 2003 the funding that they expected to use for the project was diverted to the war effort in Iraq.

For seven years the project was held up until in 2010 HPAC reengaged with the USACE and our elected officials to get the project started again. USACE produced a feasibility study to explore the riverfront restoration and last year the funds became available to finally begin construction.

The USACE objectives for this project are specifically the ecological restoration of the riverbank and the surrounding area. Park amenities are not in their project scope, and as a consequence some of HPAC and FOTR’s initial ideas are not being realized at this time. The USACE restoration work is expected to be completed in three years. Once their work is completed the Park District will monitor and maintain the area as proscribed by the USACE.

The transformed riverfront will be an asset that all Horner Park users can take advantage of. Openness and accessibility along the river will create new safe and healthy public uses, and support a diversity of native wildlife that will benefit for generations to come.  HPAC supports this grand effort being undertaken for our community and the ecological goals that it will accomplish. We thank all those that helped us realize this goal including, Friends of the Chicago River, Chicago Park District, US Army Corp of Engineers, Alderman Mell, and Congressman Quigley. We also thank Ravenswood Manor Improvement Association, the Horner Park West Neighborhood Association and all the families and individuals that supported this initiative. Your help was invaluable. We look forward to seeing this project through.

USACE Project Plan (PDF)

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