Hegewisch Marsh returning to former beauty

August 16, 2011 3:28:41 PM PDT
Back in the late 1880's, the first steel mills began operation in the area known as Hegewisch on the city's Southeast Side. They provided countless jobs, but also caused environmental damage. Now, some of that damage done to Mother Nature is being returned to its former beauty.

Hegewisch Marsh is an oasis of nature surrounded by the crush of industry and transportation. Located at 132nd Street and Torrence Avenue, it is an example of how the mistakes of man can be corrected by man. For the past eight years the city's Department of the Environment has been working to bring this area back to what it used to be. But it hasn't been easy.

"Hegewisch Marsh unfortunately fell victim to ... like a lot of the wetlands to heavy industrial dumping. Some of our property remains intact but a lot of it was filled with molten slag," said Zach Taylor, the manager of Hegewisch Marsh Project.

The slag and continuous dumping through the years filled in the water and chased away the wildlife. But now, the wildlife is returning. Creatures that deserted this area have rediscovered a new home. And it's all because of a program to remove all the invasive species of trees and plants. Since then, native growth is taking over the 130 acres.

"We're doing it for a couple of reasons. One is obviously for the nature and wildlife that depend on sites like this. But also so people can come and enjoy it right here in the city," said Aaron Durnbaugh, Deputy Commissioner of the Environment.

It will take five to 10 years to complete the project. But native grasses already are replacing plants like the invasive purple loose strife, and much of the work is being done by green corps Chicago. And they are winning the war.

The Hegewisch Marsh was formed by the retreat of the glaciers 10,000 years ago. It turned into one of the most beautiful natural spots probably in the world. And it was still like that when the Chicago pioneers arrived.

"When the settlers first came here to the Southeast Side, they were struck by the amount of water fowl and deer that inhabited this area," said Taylor.

They say it can never be restored to the pre-settlers days, but it will be a safety island of sanity for those seeking a quiet break from our rat race.

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