Pokémon, Programs and Plants: 2016 in Review

Water is Life

marram erosion control

Marram Grass

2016 was a busy and challenging year at the dune restoration. Plants were planted, seeds were seeded. Weeds were weeded.  We survived being popular in Pokémon Go and gained many new friends.  We also gained a roped path.  A new fence was installed.  Two other strips of marram grass were planted and the fence was removed on all of the older strips. Over a hundred trees were planted in the park and we started to have Nature Center activities such as bird watching, nature walks and Oak-tober.

In the dune area alone, volunteers planted 500 little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) plugs and 500 butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) plugs.  Little bluestem will, hopefully, over time out-compete some invasive species such as black medick and the cool-season grasses.  Butterfly weed is in the milkweed family and will provide food for many butterflies and hosting for the larvae of monarch (Danaus plexippus) and queen (Danaus gilippus) butterflies.  Butterfly weed will bloom in June or early July with long-lasting orange flowers. This will give a big splash of color at a time when not much else is blooming.  Other seeds were planted including nearly 100 prickly pear cactus (Opuntia humifusa).

pokemon-players

Photo Nikki Danielle

During the Pokémon Go craze, Pratt Beach (Tobey Prinz Beach Park) was, surprisingly, the most popular venue in Chicago.  The genesis of the popularity started before Pokémon Go. Niantic, the company that created Pokémon Go, had a previous geo-caching game called Ingress which was much less popular. Individuals could propose spots for the game.  Some Rogers Parkians proposed seven spots, all in the Pratt area.  One of them was called “Buddha Head” and was the location of the temporary art installation by Ten Thousand Ripples.  That art installation was removed a few years ago, but that location and six others were incorporated into the new game Pokémon Go. Two to three hundred people per night were visiting the pier and dune restoration area with different people coming all of the time. This small area started to suffer from too much love.  Many neighbors (maybe you!) kindly asked the players to stay on the paths, explaining that it was too much traffic for such a small space.  Some neighbors and players created a crew to clean up at the end of each evening.  In the end only political pressure by our State Representative, Kelly Cassidy, proved enough to get the one spot actually in the Dunes shut down.

There is now a new perimeter fence and a new roped path.  The roped path was triggered by the Pokémon Go players.  They had created so many informal “paths” that when asked to stay on the path, they responded that they were on one!  The Park District was very responsive and had the ropes added to narrow the “official” path (the path had increased to three times what it is now) immediately after they saw the need.  I find the roped path gives a different perspective.  When I am on it, the area seems bigger than before; it is an optical illusion I didn’t expect.  I expected it to seem smaller.

The perimeter fence was also in need of replacement. We had replaced the plastic ties several times. The fence was being buried in sand in some areas and was bent in ways that were hard to undo in others.  The Pokémon Go players were walking over it in spots because they could, it was that buried. The fence was completely replaced. It had been in service for over ten years.  Hopefully, after the next ten, there will be no need for a fence at all.

Two more areas of marram grass (Ammophila breviligulata) were planted.  One, in Loyola Park proper, makes the connection between the patch planted around the comfort station and the strip closest to the dune. It is on the west side of the sidewalk and covers the area where sand had blown into the park.  The other patch is at Helen Doria Beach at the Columbia Street street-end.  Invasive species were removed and the marram grass planted to make a nice entrance to the beach.  As has happened with previous plantings, the grass will naturalize, fill in and make a softer edge. The real point of these plantings though, is to keep the sand from moving into the park and/or up the street.

Over a hundred new trees have been planted in the park! It seems as if many of them are maples.  We will know more come spring. The trees were planted to replace the ones that came down in the storm in 2015 and the trees that have been killed due to the emerald ash borer.  The Park will be a very different looking place in a few years. There is some interest by volunteers to map all of the trees in the Park this spring.

We started nature programming.  It is all with volunteer help.  We had several beginning bird watching mornings, three nature walks and we culminated by hosting an event called Oak-tober to celebrate the black oaks that are at Leone Park.  This is all in addition to the dune tours held at each workday. We are working on establishing a nature center in Leone Park as the building is currently underused.

All in all, it was a very busy year.  The upcoming year should bring us more learning opportunities and the enjoyment of our natural world.

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