Lincoln Park Zoo Nature Boardwalk
Amongst skyscrapers condominiums, historic hotels, and the hustle and bustle of one of North America’s most populated cities lies a place of serenity, and inspiration for global change. Well, the serenity part is in question since the sounds of frogs croaking, water trickling and ducks quacking is commonly interrupted by children squealing. But who can blame them for getting excited over a new discovery? The Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo is definitely something to get excited over for children and adults alike.
In order for Lincoln Park Zoo to unveil this new environment, which is being dubbed an “Urban Oasis,” a lot of changes to the original South Pond have taken place. The new residents are just settling in, which gives scientists and visitors the ability to monitor new developments from inception. This also gives the Zoo the ability to complement Chicago’s urban conservation and outreach program.
Although fond memories of the old wooden paddle boats shaped like swans remain — not much of the old south pond will be missed. Many are unaware, but the Zoo’s South Pond was too shallow to properly house wildlife, causing its occupants to either flee during the winter or, sadly, die. But I remember fish and other aquatic animals thriving in the pond, you say? That’s simply because it housed stock fish and animals, unfortunately, making it just an enormous fish tank. And while that may be a marvel to the writers of the Guinness Book of World Records, environmentalists found it less impressive. So gone is the shallow pond, the paddle boats, the concrete shorelines and sidewalk — and in their place a newly deepened aquatic world, sedges and bulrushes grow on a “natural” shoreline, and a new boardwalk surrounds the space (constructed of recycled materials). The Lester E. Fisher Bridge, a great place for a photo-op, now features vertical slats below to provide an anchor for birds to build their nests and now native plants naturally filter the water. Who else is calling the new Nature Boardwalk home? Various species of birds, turtles, fish and even land animals.
Look to the island on the south side of the boardwalk using binoculars to spot the Black Crowned Night Herons just like the Lincoln Park Zoo scientists do. Daily counts of this native bird help to monitor their growth as the Zoo attempts to take them off the Illinois endangered species list. In fact scientists were so careful not to scare the Black Crowned Night Herons away from the nature boardwalk that construction was scheduled around their migratory season. Blanding’s turtles will also be calling the Nature Boardwalk home, and with their yellow lower lip resembling a smile these hopeless romantics will travel great distances to find their perfect mate. Transmitters and a catch and release method are used for monitoring these guys. Zoo scientists are also teaming up with the Dupage County Forest Preserve to create maps to monitor their population. Another reptile living at the boardwalk with that slow and steady wins the race mentality is the Painted Turtle. You’ll also be able to spot the Painted Turtle in the shallow end of the pond, with bright yellow and red markings along their skin and shell. The new depth of the pond will also help them live through the winter because as the pond ices over the painted turtle slows it’s metabolism and buries itself in the mud to create a new home until spring.
Under the water you can find schools of the Illinois state fish, the Bluegill, splashing around and feeding on plankton, insects and smaller fish. But they should watch out for the top predator of the pond, the Large Mouth Bass. This regulator of the smaller fish population can grow up to two feet long! Catch and release nets are also used to monitor the fish population. Leisurely swimming along the surface are the Canadian Geese and Wooden Ducks, while other feathered flocks find refuge in one of the 100+ new trees.
To the East of the pond is a large wooden structure shaped like the back of a turtle, but is better known as the Peoples Gas Education Pavilion. This area is dedicated to the largest of all the new animals, the human. Under the shell is an outdoor classroom for field trips and educational programs. Portable labs called curiosity carts loaded with scientific tools help students and visitors explore. And for those who need to rest their minds after a long day, the Peoples Gas Education Pavilion offers Adult Hatha Yoga and Mom/Dad and Baby yoga on select dates.
And as the buzzing of summer fades and the leaves start to fall, it will be interesting to see how these new residents and their habitat adapt as mother nature intended. With this all natural homogeneous environment, Chicago hopes to lead by example and encourage other zoos and park districts alike to revamp their habitats too.
Location: 2001 N. Clark Street
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