Pols, environmental groups tout open space project
By Fran Spielman City Hall Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org December 9, 2011 3:08PM
Looking out of the window while Gov. Quinn and Mayor Emanuel announce the largest open space project in the country, which will add 140,000 acres of green space to the Chicago area at the US bank 1000 e 111th Street. Friday, December 9, 2011. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times
Updated: January 11, 2012 8:08AM
More than 140,000 acres of land on Chicago’s Southeast Side that has served as an environmental dumping ground would be transformed into recreational and open space, under a project showcased Friday that will take billions of dollars and decades to complete.
Gov. Pat Quinn, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, Il. Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) and a host of environmental groups came together behind the “Millennium Reserve Initiative,” billed as the nation’s largest open space project.
With $17.9 million in seed money from the state, it’ll start with a “Calumet Core phase” that includes such long-talked-about projects as the Burnham Greenway Trail that calls for building a pair of bridges over the CSX Railroad and the Grand Calumet River to provide a continuous path for cycling and walking.
Phase One also includes Indian Ridge Marsh, a 145-acre site where officials hope to improve aquatic, wetland and woodland areas, build recreational trails, create new habitats and preserve a breeding ground for the endangered black crowned night heron.
The Chicago Park District recently acquired more than 680 acres of open space in the Calumet area from the city and is working to transition it to open lands.
And the Cook County Forest Preserve District, which owns more than 9,300 acres or 60 percent of the natural land in the Calumet Core plans to spend more than $4.5 million to plan new trails, renovate historic buildings and improve parking and access.
“This is one of the greatest pockets of wilderness that God ever created,” Quinn told a news conference at the U.S. Bank Building, 1000 E. 111th Street overlooking the site.
Noting that many Illinois residents can’t afford to visit national parks, Quinn said, “We have to have something nearby….That’s what Millennium Reserve is….It’s a spiritual exercise walking in nature and seeing plants and animals and birds.”
Emanuel said it’s high time that the “fallow” land be turned into a “recreational frontier.” Too many inner-city kids grow up “without any sense of the outside world” or ability to feel the freedom that comes with playing in open space, he said.
“Our lake is our Grand Canyon. It’s our Yellowstone Park. And too much of the Interior [Department] resources are focused on the West—and I don’t mean the West Side of Chicago,” the mayor said.
“Without an initiative like this, you cannot bring the resources of the federal government to bear to the state and the city. This brings home…our tax dollars in an environmental way…Without taking this initiative, there’s gonna be a huge amount of federal resources that are gonna sit on the table and bypass Chicago and the state of Illinois.”
Quigley said the Lake Calumet area has faced “more environmental degradation—abuses by man—than any other spot in the world short of a nuclear bomb.” Despite “all of those assaults,” nature has “fought back” and is “still there,” he said.
Then, the congressman referred to the week that was in Illinois—when yet another convicted governor was sentenced to 14 years in prison.
“Despite all the other stories of the week—and of the month and of the year—trust me. This will be an area that your children’s children will thank us for. That this generation saved the area..that has been forgotten for so long,” he said.