Northerly Island plans to include camping, wildlife

August 16, 2012 (CHICAGO)

Chicago's Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants children exposed to all of Chicago's natural bounty.

"You run into kids who have never even been to the lake," said Mayor Emanuel. "Here in Chicago, they have not been to one of the greatest parts of nature."

Turning Northerly Island into a robust conservation center offers social benefits visualized by Chicago's founding planner Daniel Burnham.

"I think this is a great opportunity to bring all the wealth of our city, all the intellectual knowledge of our city, and bring it to our kids and our families who otherwise would not get it," Emanuel said. "This is what a great city does."

Over several years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will restore what used to be Meigs Field to what nature intended, a grassland on the shore of an inland sea, full of birds, savannahs and wildlife.

The city's park district will get the kids out through their programming, which includes providing the right equipment for such adventures as camping, sailing and learning survival skills.

Some spaces will be reserved for at-risk youth.

The Field Museum, Adler Planetarium and Shedd Aquarium will help design initiatives.

"Research has shown that participating in wilderness programs has a major impact on emotional and intellectual development of a child," said Chicago Park District General Superintendent Michael Kelly.

Jadah Parker recently went camping on Northerly Island as part of a first wave of Chicago kids to get this kind of exposure in the city.

"I think it makes people less materialistic, and especially being in a city like Chicago, it makes you want to be, like, more 'Let's get out,' do more and stuff like that," said Parker.

The first phase of the restoration project will cost $4.3 million -- with $2.8 million coming from a federal grant -- and $1.5 million coming from revenues generated by the concert venue at Northerly Island.

Chicago's new camping experience is scheduled to be up and running next year.

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