Wild in the City: Chicagoland's Urban Ecology

South Pond: Welcoming Wildlife in an Urban Landscape

Lincoln Park’s South Pond has served as a recreation destination for generations of Chicagoans. The Park commissioners erected the first boathouse in 1868. Another boathouse followed, which was eventually replaced by Café Brauer in 1908, a structure that still welcomes leisure-seeking Chicagoans to the edge of the pond. 

Almost 150 years after the park’s original romantic, recreation-focused design, Lincoln Park Zoo unveiled a new plan for the South Pond: a restored natural ecosystem. This connective habitat would attract local and migratory wildlife, while remaining a tranquil respite from the bustle of the surrounding city. Completed in 2010, this new Nature Boardwalk restored some of the area’s original wetland habitat, with marshy shores and local plant life. Human visitors can take in the natural surroundings from the boardwalk that rings the pond and provides an excellent vantage point while protecting the fragile habitat.

Shortly following the completion of Nature Boardwalk staff at the Urban Wildlife Institute attempted to recreate the Walters’ century-old migratory bird survey. In 2012 researchers observed about 100 bird species in Lincoln Park, nearly the same total that the Walters logged a hundred years prior. While the total numbers were similar, some of the species observed changed over the years, and the prevalence of various species fluctuated, illustrating some of the impact of a century of urbanization. This understanding of the changes to our urban ecosystem comes thanks to the Walters, citizen scientists conducting studies a century ago.

The opening of Nature Boardwalk attracted visitors of all kinds. Humans enjoy leisurely strolls along the boardwalk much as they did when the park was created 150 years before, while the newly reinvigorated natural environment attracts an influx of wildlife, including mammals, birds, reptiles, and insects. 

Nature Boardwalk represents an important shift in the public perception of what an urban green space can be, an evolution from the Victorian ideal of engineered, human-centered spaces for recreation to the restoration of the native ecosystem that supports wildlife, while remaining a green oasis within an urban center.  For generations the varied efforts of dedicated citizen scientists have documented and preserved the natural spaces that all of Chicago’s residents, human, animal and botanical, depend upon.
Use the cards at the bottom of each page to explore various parts of the "A Century of Citizen Science in Lincoln Park" chapter. There will always be a card to take you back to the chapter introduction or you can go back to the Wild in the City overview.


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