From Dumpsite to Prairie
The land between the Chicago, St. Paul and Milwaukee railroad trackage and the North Branch of the Chicago river, lying halfway between Dempster and Beckwith Road, once was a dumping ground for our community. Prevailing westerly winds constantly blew trash and garbage eastward over the bluff into the river and the forest lands along it. This unsightlyness continued until a member of the Cook County Clean Streams Committee reported it and suggested a solution. A chain link fence along the edge of the bluff captured the windblown debris and the river and the woodlands stayed free of trash. When it was announced that a segment of the deep tunnel project was about to be constructed 200 feet below our river to capture the combined sewer overflows that would enter and pollute the stream during rainfalls, the main drop shaft of the project was to be located on this site. Unfortunately, many fine specimens of native trees were sacrificed to clear a large enough space. Soon a huge hill of limestone gravel, from the excavation of the tunnel, loomed on the site of the dump. It took years for the material to be sold and removed and plans were made by the Forest Preserve District to restore it as a demonstration prairie.
Today one access the prairie restoration site either by parking along Beckwith Road and walking the maintenance road south to where there is a graveled loop trail circling a low hill. Or one can park in the picnic grounds in Linne Woods on Dempster, walk down to the river, cross on the Horse Bridge, and walk up a narrow trail leading up the river bluff to the site. Several informational signs will guide the visitor once they reach the prairie. With each passing year, one can see an improvement in the vegetative cover. And considering what changes the area has experienced, from dump to construction site to a natural area, it is a dramatic improvement.
A rare find in Linne’ Woods
Discovered growing far north of its usual range was a fine specimen of Carya Laciniosa, the Kingnut Hickory in Linne’ Woods near the Horse Bridge. This rare hickory is distinguished by having 7 to 9 leaflets on a leaf twig instead of the 5 to 7 that the Shagbark Hickory has. The nuts are twice as large as other hickory nuts and taste much sweeter. It grows to 100 feet high and its normal northern range here is to central Illinois. There are several saplings clustered around the parent tree hopefully insuring a future grove of them. Other common names are Shellbark Hickory or Big Leaf Hickory.
The North Branch Horse Bridge in Linne Woods
The first bridge constructed across the river in Linne woods was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during in the 1930’s. It was replaced by a rather makeshift structure composed of pieces of steel girders and piping mounted on two concrete piers set in the river. These caused debris to build up, eroding the banks. When the Forest Preserve noticed the deteriorated and unsafe condition of the bridge, they closed it to traffic. For several years the river could not be crossed here and the Friends campaigned for a new bridge. We insisted on a clear span that would not catch debris and a low maintenance structure of Cor-ten steel. The result was the graceful structure now spanning our river. Unfortunately, the builders and the District did not clear the residue of both the CCC bridge and the second from the river itself. Friends, with assistance of the Forest Preserve District, spent a morning hauling about 20 tons of rubble from the area under the bridge by hand, carting it away in three dump truck loads. Now visitors can enjoy a clean peaceful woodland scene as the river glides underneath.
2007, the year of the cicada
Few persons exploring our woodlands realize the magnitude of life underfoot. In 2007, a bumper crop of cicadas, having spent 17 years underground, surfaced to sing, make merry and produce another generation. In most instances, their escape from the underground was not noticed as it was hidden by vegetation but on a bare well-trodden path along the river in Linne Woods, the exit holes were clearly visible. The emerging nymphs climbed a nearby tree to shed their old clothing and put on their finery for the mating game.The shear numbers are hinted at by the piles of discards left behind. The mating songs were heard loud and clear during the warm summer evenings and by the approach of fall, the evidence of this activity was apparent in the tips of oak tree where the females had laid their eggs causing the leaves to die. When hatched, the new generation would drop to the ground and bury themselves only to surface again in another seventeen years. Walk softly in the woods for much is going on underfoot.
The Railroad Prairie
Prairie remnants are often found along railroad right-of-ways where the land has been ignored after the tracks were laid down. Such a site lies along the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul railroad tracks just north of Dempster Street and is adjacent to the prairie restoration project on the old deep tunnel dumping ground site in Linne Woods. Click here for a map. The railroad has placed warning signs along the east side of the tracks to prevent the spraying or cutting of the vegetation during maintenance runs. There is a steep embarkment along the tracks making access difficult and at the same time protecting it. During a brief visit this past summer, the following forbs were in bloom.
These little remnants are natures repository for the seeds and genes necessary to repopulate new areas and are easily lost as our area is developed. Help is needed to clean out invasive species that threaten the site. Would you like to help?