Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Outdoor Firing Range Slated for Environmentally Sensitive Area

Nestled between landfills and the Little Calumet River (just south of 134th street and east of the Bishop Ford) river are 130 plus acres of fenced off MWRD property.  And on this property exist two ponds preserved by the historic Calumet Open Space Reserve Plan: the O’Brien Lock and Dam Marsh and the Whitford Ponds. Both are known for their value as habitat for white egrets and blue herons, as well as other migratory bird species not commonly found in our backyards. But a recent proposal by the Chicago Police Department to develop a firing range on 33 acres adjacent to these ponds may drive the birds away, thus reducing an already-limited pool of nesting options for the Calumet area's marsh and wetland birds.

Never mind that the Calumet Land Use Plan, a momentous undertaking of the Department of Planning and Development partnered with the Department of the Environment, had recommended that the property be reclaimed as open space, or that the area is adjacent to TIF redevelopment areas, the Chicago Police Department is determined to locate a project on the Southeast side that other communities would not embrace.

On a recent tour of the property, members of SETF, CEPA, IDNR, DOE, Chicago Audubon Society and and other community organizations were given a presentation of the project by Sgt. Raymond Hamilton of the Chicago Police Department. While Sgt. Hamilton briefed us on the details, butterflies flittered through the wet prairie plants, egrets flew overhead criss-crossing the river and a spotted hawk glided effortlessly above us.

Ironically, the same attributes that make it a plausible site for the firing range make for an even better nature reserve.  And after visitng the site and  discovering the bird rookeries along the Whitford Pond area, learning that there hasn’t been a serious natural resource survey of the area in more than 15 years, and observing the wildlife thriving there,  SETF is convinced that the Police Department should consider an alternative site - like one of the many brown fields or vacant industrial properties that exisit in the city - instead of impacting an area where nature and wildlife have taken refuge.  While there are many location options for a gun range, the herons and egrets would have few choices for relocating, as isolated wetland areas with tall trees that are suitable for rookeries are far less common than brownfields.

View of O'Brien Pond from 134th Street



Monday, August 16, 2010

Paper to Plants - A Messy Workshop

Though it was hotter than we would have liked, the sun was a welcome sight after having had our paper making workshop rained out the first time.  Knowing how messy the process was, we decided to set up our work tables and equipment on the sidewalk in front of the office.  And it's a good thing we got an early start because just as expected, things did go wrong.  First it was the power strip that didn't work necessitating our having to unplug one of our staff.  Then it was a blender that quit on us before we even got started, leaving us with just one that worked.   Luckily, our group was small enough that it didn't matter.

Tearing paper into tiny pieces.
Blending paper into a slurry.
We began by passing out mini-folders that we had made from recycled manila folders,  They contained simple instructions, a sample of the finished project and a template to use as a cutting guide.  After presenting an overview of the project,  we led two at a time outside while the others stayed in to chat and enjoy the refreshments. Outside we stepped them through the process of making seed-embedded paper.  We had each participant tear 5 sheets of used text paper into tiny pieces, add the prescribed amount of water, blend the two into a slurry and then pulse in a scant amount of flower seeds.  The slurry was than poured onto screens, spread evenly around and then laid between pieces of felt to have the water extracted with a rolling pin.  Knowing the paper takes hours to dry, we had to cut box cardboard into rectangles and cover them with aluminum foil. 

Rolling out the excess water.

Measuring carefully.
 Everyone was thrilled with the finished product and carried their wet sheet of paper home on our makeshift trays to dry. Before they left, they inquired about having a second part to the workshop to learn how to turn their paper into gift tags.  We're working on scheduling a date.

 A new sheet of paper!
A big "Thank You" goes out to Pat Rosen of the Gibson Nature Preserve and Wild Ones, chapter 38 for donating the Midwestern Wildflower seeds.