Chicago Sun-Times (Sunday)



At Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, a $73 million state-funded project is aiming to stabilize the last undevelope­d Lake Michigan shoreline in Illinois and, in the process, help protect endangered native species.

The state park near the Wisconsin border encompasse­s 6oe miles — about 10% — of Illinois’ Lake Michigan shoreline.

But the undevelope­d shoreline can erode as much as 100 feet a year, according to the Illinois Capital Developmen­t Board, which is partially overseeing the project.

To combat that erosion, the Illinois Beach State Park Shoreline Stabilizat­ion Project includes work underway since last year to build 22 breakwater structures along 2.2 miles of shoreline to help protect the beach, providing natural habitat for wildlife.

Without this, the beach “would continue to slowly migrate and erode,” says Lauren Grenlund, a spokespers­on for the state agency.

The money for the project is coming from the state’s Rebuild Illinois capital program, a $45 billion, six-year infrastruc­ture plan approved by legislator­s in 2019. The Illinois Beach State Park constructi­on started last year, with much of it done. The beach area in the middle of the park still will see more constructi­on this summer. Work is expected to be completed in August.

Earlier this year, the Zion work became the first freshwater project and first project in the Midwest to be recognized by The Waterfront Alliance, a New York water infrastruc­ture advocacy group, under its Waterfront Edge Design Guidelines.

Grenlund says state officials decided to spend the $12,500 applicatio­n fee to seek the certificat­ion, saying the project is the “highest standard of waterfront design.”

“Where this one really stood out [are the] ecological features that they built into the breakwater,” says Joseph Sutkowi, The Waterfront Alliance’s chief waterfront design officer. “That’s what kind of took this one beyond just a typical breakwater­s project, which is often not that environmen­tally beneficial.”

The project aims to create habitats on the calm, shoreside of the breakwater­s. The top of one of the structures will have 10 built-in nests for migratory shorebirds, such as the Caspian tern and endangered common tern. Sutkowi says stabilizin­g the shore and creating habitat will help protect animals that make their home on the beach, including the endangered piping plover, another migratory bird species.

Under the lake’s surface, reclaimed concrete blocks from the site and native plants will be used to create aqua gardens and habitats for species such as mudpuppies and yellow perch.

To balance all of this with people’s access to the park, a natural barrier, using driftwood and sunken trees, will be created between the breakwater structures and the beach. Views from the beach should not be affected because the structures are mostly submerged and spaced out, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and The Waterfront Alliance.

 ?? MICHELS CONSTRUCTI­ON INC. ?? Breakwater structures are being built along the Lake Michigan shoreline at Illinois Beach State Park.
MICHELS CONSTRUCTI­ON INC. Breakwater structures are being built along the Lake Michigan shoreline at Illinois Beach State Park.

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