Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Stearns Quarry Wetlands

I learned of this ecological gem while waiting on the Roosevelt el platform, of all places. The CTA has TV screens at some of the larger stations that encourage passengers to explore different areas of the city by mass transit, by showcasing certain attractions near different el stops. Advertised as being just steps from the Halsted Orange Line station and bus hub, I hopped a train to the south side and spent a morning wandering through one of the Park District's newest open areas and wetlands restoration sites.

The site of this abandoned stone quarry lies just southeast of the Stevenson Expressway, but despite its proximity to such a major vehicle thoroughfare, the quarry is surprisingly tranquil. The topographical variation itself is reason enough to visit; the mound of unused land left by the site's previous industry is now a grass-covered hill, criss-crossed by paved pedestrian walkways, and the mining pit has been filled with water and stocked with native fish and aquatic plants.

The walkway into the park is lined with large stones, a reminder of what the land was once used for, and the water's source is at the site of the quarry's old well. It circles the well in a growing spiral trench until it reaches the edge of the pavement and meanders down the hill into the quarry pit below. Sedges and tall grasses have already taken root in the fertile soils lining the newly formed stream, and should be completely grown in by next summer. Although the fishing area is not yet open to the public, residents are already taking advantage of the open space; runners were tackling one of the largest hills in the city and families were picnicking atop giant boulders.

After I toured the wetlands, I briefly considered continuing south on Halsted to lunch in (and explore) the Bronzeville neighborhood, but was skeptical of the neighborhood that lay in between, so I (somewhat reluctantly) hopped back on the train and made my way north. Kudos to the Park District and the Transit Authority, however, for enticing me to visit a part of the city I wouldn't otherwise have considered!

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