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Lincoln Park, Old Town

The Wild Mile’s First Stretch Is Ready, Bringing Floating Gardens, Paths And More To Chicago River’s North Branch

PHOTOS: The Wild Mile is an ambitious project to turn a 1-mile stretch of the Chicago River from North to Halsted into a floating, wildlife-first educational park.

The Chicago skyline is seen from the Wild Mile Chicago, a floating eco-park located on the North Branch Canal of the Chicago River, on July 7, 2022.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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LINCOLN PARK — An industrialized stretch of the Chicago River in Lincoln Park once used for barges hauling goods in and out of the city has found a new life thanks to a floating eco-park.

The first phase of The Wild Mile can be found behind the Lincoln Park REI store, 905 W. Eastman St., on the Chicago River canal on the east side of Goose Island. It features a large floating platform and walkways, as well as floating gardens with native species and other wildlife.

The first phase was finished last month, said Nick Wesley, executive director of Urban Rivers, a nonprofit that works to transform city rivers into urban sanctuaries. Future phases of the project will expand the floating park to cover a mile-long stretch from Halsted Street to North Avenue.

“The thesis behind it is we wanted to take an industrialized canal and build off its existing architecture to create a wildlife-first park,” Wesley said.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Nick Wesley, executive director of Urban Rivers, speaks about Wild Mile Chicago, a floating eco-park located on the North Branch Canal of the Chicago River, on July 7, 2022.
Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Wild Mile Chicago, a floating eco-park located on the North Branch Canal of the Chicago River, on July 7, 2022.

The completed part of the Wild Mile features a learning platform, where students and other people can visit and learn about the river, Wesley said.

“We wanted to make an area that’s big enough where you could bring the whole classroom down to program around it,” Wesley said.

Urban Rivers also hosts Thursday workshops every week at 7:15 p.m. where people can learn about the area, wildlife and other things. The spot has already been used for a class on seed starting and guerrilla gardening organized by people from the Goose Island Overlook, a nearby community garden, Wesley said.

Upcoming classes include lessons on sound, meditation and artful play on Thursday; birds that can be found along the Chicago River on July 21; and a “Dance-apalooza” on July 28, Wesley said.

“It’s awesome seeing the space get used, and I’m just glad people like it,” Wesley said. “I see people coming here just to read, sit, talk and eat. It’s a great way to just enjoy the wildlife and relax.”

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Wild Mile Chicago, a floating eco-park located on the North Branch Canal of the Chicago River, on July 7, 2022.

The Wild Mile has largely been funded through city grants, donations and partnerships with organizations like the Shedd Aquarium, Wesley said. Currently, Urban Rivers has secured enough money to extend the wild mile another 400 feet north.

“Then we’ll keep fundraising to get to Weed Street, which will make the first loop so you can enter on one end of the Wild Mile and exit on another,” Wesley said. “That will be in the next one to two years.”

People can support the Wild Mile my joining its volunteer program, detailed on Urban Rivers’ website, or by donating to the project.

Check out more of Colin Boyle’s photos of the Wild Mile:

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Wild Mile Chicago, a floating eco-park located on the North Branch Canal of the Chicago River, on July 7, 2022.
Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
People launch their kayaks near the Wild Mile Chicago, a floating eco-park located on the North Branch Canal of the Chicago River, on July 7, 2022.
Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
The Chicago skyline is visible from the Wild Mile Chicago, a floating eco-park located on the North Branch Canal of the Chicago River, on July 7, 2022.
Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
REI Co-Op sits next to Wild Mile Chicago, a floating eco-park located on the North Branch Canal of the Chicago River, on July 7, 2022.
Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Nick Wesley picks up a mussel out of the Wild Mile Chicago, a floating eco-park located on the North Branch Canal of the Chicago River, on July 7, 2022.
Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
People kayak past the Wild Mile Chicago, a floating eco-park located on the North Branch Canal of the Chicago River, on July 7, 2022.
Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Wild Mile Chicago, a floating eco-park located on the North Branch Canal of the Chicago River, on July 7, 2022.

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