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Mound Project To Celebrate Area’s Native American History At Horner Park Could Break Ground in September

Current plans call for a 12-foot-tall mound that would be seeded with buffalo grass and take about two years to complete.

Artist Santiago X points to the area of the park where the proposed mound would be located.
Alex V. Hernandez/Block Club Chicago
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IRVING PARK — Groundbreaking of the earthen effigy mound at Horner Park may happen as soon as September.

Effigy mounds were sacred burial land sculptures built by Native Americans, often resembling animals. The proposed Horner Park mound would be part of a walking museum trail from the Chicago River to the Des Plaines River across Irving Park Road.

“Regarding next steps, the mound steering committee in conjunction with the park district is integrating public feedback from last [week’s] meeting and finalizing the proposal,” said John Friedmann, vice president of the Horner Park Advisory Council.

If park district officials approve that version, it will then be submitted to the Army Corps of Engineers for approval, Friedmann said. 

Last week, Ald. Deb Mell (33rd), Chicago Park District officials and the Horner Park Advisory Council hosted a meeting to get public feedback on the proposed mound at Horner Park.

A rendering of the proposed art installation at Horner Park.

During the meeting, some residents asked if the mound could be used to launch sleds in the winter, they wondered if bench seating could be added, what would be done to prevent erosion of the mound over time and how much longer sections of the park would be fenced off to the public to install the mound.

RELATED: Horner Park Could Become Home To Mound Celebrating Area’s Native American History

Back in February 2014, engineers began a $5.6 million ecosystem restoration project at Horner Park. This required fencing off about 14 acres of the park and 2,600 feet of the riverbank so crews could restore the park’s oak savanna habitat, remove invasive species and perform other landscaping improvements to restore the natural features of the North Branch Chicago River at Horner Park.

If approved, the mound would be built in the southern part of “Zone 3’s oak savanna habitat” (see diagram below) that is bordered by Irving Park Road. Current plans call for a 12-foot-tall mound that would be seeded with buffalo grass and take about two years to complete.

However, if army engineers think the mound doesn’t meet the requirements of a native-prairie restoration or doesn’t fit in the Horner savanna, the park district can still proceed with its construction by offering up an equal amount of land that will remain in a natural, prairie state elsewhere in Horner Park, said Friedmann.

Credit: Courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Steve Weaver, executive director of the Chicago Public Art Group, said the Chicago Community Trust awarded his group a Great Rivers Grant to help build the “Northwest Portage Walking Museum Trail.” If the mound is approved, Horner Park would be the eastern trailhead for that walking museum, with Schiller Woods acting as the western trailhead.

“[We were] awarded $75,000 from the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust to create two sites for the Northwest Portage Walking Museum, creation of a steering committee and educational programming,” Weaver said. “We are seeking additional funds to increase the size of the earthwork installation and to create educational programming for local parks and schools about the mounds.”

Santiago X is an “indigenous futurist” artist who is a descendant of North American mound builders and stone carvers from the Marianas Islands, according to his website. The Horner Park mound would be created from his design.

“This isn’t a replica of a mound. This is the real thing,” he said. “We’re surrounded by indigenous culture but we don’t celebrate in built environments so much.”

The coil mound in Horner Park will feature a mulch-covered, winding pathway for people to walk to the top of the structure, allowing people to enjoy views of the park and river. Its design would be integrated into the native prairie restoration area.

“I’m very invested in contemporary indigenous futures. Taking us out of the past and away from archeological speak—getting specimens for the field museum,” Santiago said. “I’m more about the living culture and how we’re infused in the city now. There’s a diversity that we can celebrate, a reminder of what this was can be about and what it is about still.” 

Credit: Photo by Alex V. Hernandez.
Horner Park earthwork site plan proposal.

During last week’s meeting Santiago said the mound would feature an augmented reality aspect, which would allow people visiting the mound to use their phones to scan symbols and signs on and around the mound to view — living artifacts — photos, videos and articles — that give context to the Horner Park mound.

Also present during last week’s meeting was Nilay Mistry, a visiting landscape architecture professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology. He’s overseeing the earthwork site plan for the project.

“We want this large earthwork to be a destination that can be seen from traffic on Irving Park,” Mistry said. “But we don’t want it used as a cut through in the park.”

The proposed plan would preserve the trees around the mound and use a mulch pathway to give access to it from concrete paths that border the park’s savannah area.

“We want to make sure that the area around the mound stays quiet and that we don’t have a tremendous amount of foot traffic that might start damaging the vegetation that we’ve worked so hard to bring back,” he said.

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