A rendering of what the new plaza at Ronan Park will look like once it's built. Credit: Chicago Park District.

LINCOLN SQUARE — Four parks along the north branch of the Chicago River and North Shore Channel are getting upgrades to improve their shoreline ecosystems and add amenities. 

In 2018, a 4-foot dam at the confluence of the north branch and North Shore Channel was demolished by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to help restore the river ecosystem. Since then, the Park District has removed invasive trees and other plants to restore the habitat — which has led to neighbors spotting snapping turtles hatching near Horner Park and great blue herons hunting for fish near River Park.

Now, River, Legion, Ronan and Kiwanis parks are getting various upgrades to expand on that work.

“This is building on a lot of work, citywide, on envisioning the riverfront. Back in the day, the river was something we didn’t care about,” said Lauren Umek, Park District project manager. “The lake was our thing, and the river was kind of something we ignored. But over the last couple of decades, Chicagoans have really wanted to interact more with the space, and we’ve realized how vital it is.” 

The upgrades are being paid for with funds from the Lawrence/Kedzie TIF District that’s set to expire in 2024, Umek said. 

“These projects are all on slightly different timelines. All of this is paid for with TIF funds set to expire Dec. 31, 2024,” Umek said. “Everything needs to be done by then. Some of the things we’re presenting will happen sooner than others but all of it needs to be done by the end of next year unless there’s an extension to the TIF.”

Here’s what to look out for:

River Park

Floating gardens are proposed for River Park. Credit: Chicago Park District.

River Park, 5100 N. Francisco Ave., straddles the Albany Park and Lincoln Square neighborhoods and is home to the River Boathouse RiverLab, a nature center where people can see tanks with local animals and participate in activities to learn more about Chicago’s flora and fauna.

The RiverLab is in the concession space of the River Park boathouse — initially slated to be a hot dog stand, Umek said.

“But we’ve made it very cool with examples of fish and crayfish that you might see in the river,” she added.

The RiverLab’s events and programs keep selling out, Umek said. 

Rendering of proposed River Park boathouse upgrade. Credit: Chicago Park District.

The upgrades to River Park are focused on renovating the boathouse so it blends better into the riverbank and increases educational and storage spaces. The redesign would allow the Park District to expand the popular river-focused programs, officials said.

The River Park boathouse’s shipping containers, which are used for boat storage, can get very hot — up to 130 degrees. The boathouse currently has limited boat storage capacity and a lack of water to wash boats, among other issues, park officials said. 

Legion And Kiwanis Parks

The upgrades for Legion Park, 3100 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., and Kiwanis Park, 3315 W. Carmen Ave., are focused on stabilizing the shoreline from erosion and removing invasive species, similar to what was done to the shorelines at Horner and River parks, officials said. 

This includes native habitat restoration, upgrading energy-efficient lighting, multi-use trail improvements and seating, officials said.

Proposed upgrades to expand the footprint of the community garden next to Ronan Park. Credit: Chicago Park District.

Ronan Park

At Ronan Park, 2900 W. Lawrence Ave., a public plaza will be built on the concrete pad at the park’s southern entrance near Lawrence Avenue, officials said.

Plans also call for the Global Garden Refugee Training Farm’s footprint to be expanded to allow for garden beds, a hoop house, new water access and new gated entrances, park officials said. 

“These refugee farmers grow produce for restaurants, farmers markets and other places. Being able to celebrate that and keep it protected with a new fence is a fantastic result of this project,” said Thomas Applegate, the North River Commission’s executive director.

Soil and planting bed upgrades at the Refugee Training Farm and subscription garden plots are starting this month, Applegate said.

“All of the other phases and components of the four sites are planned to complete in 2024,” he said. “As construction schedules come together next year, the Chicago Park District will release that information.”

The commission has worked with the Park District, Chicago Community Trust, Metropolitan Planning Council, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, a community steering committee and firms Perkins and Will and Omni Ecosystems to create the plan for the riverfront improvements. 

For more information on the improvements and to provide feedback, visit the commission’s website

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