Parks District Opens New Visitor Center At Big Marsh Park In South Deering
The Chicago Parks District has opened a new visitor and nature center at Big Marsh Park in South Deering. Located at 11555 S Stony Island Avenue, the Ford Calumet Environmental Center is one of the largest properties in the urban park district.
The land occupied by the center used to be home to various native groups including the Algonquin, Illini, Potawatomi, and Miami tribes. But as Chicago grew south, the land which was widely used for recreation quickly became industrialized with steel mills rising along the shores of Lake Calumet and eventual take over by the Port of Chicago. Through neighborhood advocacy, landfills were banned from city boundaries in 1986 which coincided with the fall of the steel industry and subsequent clearing of the land.
The center was designed by Valerio Dewalt Train with birds in mind, using reclaimed and locally sourced materials to pay respects to the animals it exhibits. The small museum anchors the new facility offering visitors information on the site’s native history, pollution, site remediation, and area nature such as native plants, animals, and habitats. The building also holds two new multi-purpose community rooms which focus on educational programs for surrounding residents and children. A concession and office space round out the structure along with a pair of public restrooms.
Due to being on a restored ecosystem and far from sanitary sewers, one of the building’s most unique features is its Construction Wastewater Wetland (CWWW), the decentralized wastewater system is Chicago’s first and utilizes the natural water cleansing power of wetlands. Up to 4,000 gallons of wastewater a day will flow through various cleaning tanks where it will be filtered of debris, removed of nitrogen, and buffered before being released into a built wetland where natural microbes finish the treatment.
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