Lincoln Park's North Pond is drying up and in danger of becoming a wetland if the body of water isn't restored soon. Credit: Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago

LINCOLN PARK — Suzy Krueckeberg has found a sense of routine during the pandemic by going on daily walks through Lincoln Park’s North Pond.

Krueckeberg usually logs 2-4 miles in her exercise app before sitting at North Pond’s pier on the south end to take in the wildlife. Some of her favorite critters are the pond’s turtles, which sit on tree logs that have fallen into the water, and the hungry squirrels that congregate around park benches, begging people for treats.

She said the 36-acre nature sanctuary, 2610 N. Cannon Drive, has given her respite from the pandemic and the city during a time when both feel inescapable.

“It’s very peaceful, and [it’s] amazing how you can feel so close to nature while in the middle of the city,” said Krueckeberg, of Lincoln Park. “It’s quiet and joyful to just sit and look out onto the water here.”

But the North Pond is drying up and its natural beauty is at risk, which is why a local nonprofit is raising more than $7 million to restore it.

Lincoln Park resident Suzy Krueckeberg has created a sense of routine during the pandemic by taking daily walks to Lincoln Park’s North Pond sanctuary. Credit: Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago

Excess erosion is causing the pond to fill in, said Doug Widener, executive director of the Lincoln Park Conservancy. The waterway is only 2 feet deep at its lowest points, and the runoff of sedimentation is bringing nutrients into the water that exacerbate problems with excessive algae and evaporation.

“The pond’s days are numbered,” Widener said.

Members of the Conservancy, which supports the Chicago Park District by raising money for ecological projects outside of its budget, have raised almost $4.5 million toward its goal. The funding would allow city park workers to restore the North Pond shoreline by dredging up the sedimentation and putting in plants that will filter nutrients from erosion into the pond.

The Conservancy hopes this work can begin by next fall and finish by fall 2022, Widener said.

Unregulated erosion into the pond has caused some trees to start leaning or falling completely into the water. Credit: Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago
The Lincoln Park Conservancy has placed signs around the North Pond raising awareness that it’s drying up and in need of restoration. Credit: Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago

The North Pond is an entirely human-made structure that’s become home to more than 250 migratory bird species and about a dozen threatened or endangered species since it was built in the mid-1880s, Widener said.

The pond was partially restored in the 1990s, Widener said, but it was never dredged, so the water remained shallow and its long-term problems went unaddressed.

Currently, the pond doesn’t have any natural inlets to replenish water, so the Park District uses a spout at the edge of the pond to refill it with city water when it gets too shallow.

Widener said the treated city water has fluoride and other additives that can be harmful for aquatic wildlife. It’s also a wasteful use of city water.

Widener said it’s time to “bite the bullet” by investing money into dredging 25 percent of the pond to a depth of 8 feet. Other parts will be kept shallow or at varying depths to maintain the area’s biodiversity.

The North Pond was constructed in the mid-1880s. Credit: Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago

The restoration plans also include limiting the pond’s reliance on the city water spout by spraying a non-toxic polymer that will bond with sediment at the bottom, forming a natural barrier to prevent water from leaking into the ground below.

Widener said the polymer, which will need to be replaced every decade, should control about 70 percent of the water it’s losing. Another 10-15 percent of the water will be conserved through drains that filter rainfall back into the pond.

“We’d love to eliminate or definitely reduce the amount of city water that goes in so this place can be more sustainable,” Widener said.

Russ Smith, a birder who was out watching a rare Nashville warbler near the pond Thursday, said the area surrounding the pond is a favorite place for birds to stop while migrating in the spring or fall.

He said he hopes the conservancy’s project succeeds so the birds’ home isn’t lost.

“They’ve already done a lot of nice restoration work here with the native plants that attract the birds, but it’s clear that more work needs to be done to improve the pond,” Smith said.

Russ Smith, a birder who visits the North Pond area to watch and photograph migratory species. Credit: Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago
Cardinals are among the hundreds of bird species that call the North Pond home. Credit: Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago

Widener said the conservancy has gathered public feedback on the restoration plan through virtual town halls. The group has also placed signs around the area to raise awareness the ecosystem could be in danger.

He said neighbors are concerned about the pond drying up, and residents want to maintain the natural feel of the area while restoring it.

The conservancy’s plans will require removing some trees, which are leaning over and close to falling into the pond due to erosion, but its natural elements will be saved, Widener said. Its walking paths will also remain open throughout the restoration’s construction.

“We’re restoring this pond for the millions of humans that enjoy it, but also for the nature that relies on it,” Widener said.

The Lincoln Park Conservancy hopes its North Pond restoration project will be finished by fall of 2022. Credit: Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago

Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.

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