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Nonprofit Installs Floating Wildlife Sanctuary in Chicago River
Illinois Ag Connection - 06/14/2017

Urban Rivers, a Chicago-based nonprofit, installed a 166-square-foot floating garden in the Chicago River on the east side of Goose Island this past week. This project, which is four years in the making, provides much-needed habitat for the city's wildlife and serve as a destination for kayakers and pedestrians to connect with nature in the heart of Chicago.

Chicago Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) research supports this vision. The water quality has improved in recent decades and is no longer the primary factor preventing the Chicago River from having healthy, optimal fish and wildlife populations. The primary problem now is lack of habitat. Aquatic wildlife requires structure and cover in their environment to survive. Currently, the channelized Chicago River offers neither.

"We want to provide the fish and wildlife of the Chicago River the habitat they need to thrive," says cofounder Josh Yellin. "The primary goal of this project is to create effective and sustainable habitat for native plants and animals."

The Urban Rivers team, with help from community volunteers, installed a floating garden and plant over 1,500 plants of 40 different native species, creating habitat for the plants and wildlife found above and below the water's surface. The gardens have been designed to foster a diversity of native plants and provide habitat for local wildlife. Professional wildlife survey techniques were employed to test the efficacy of this effort.

This initiative was organized by a dedicated group of Chicagoans and funded by community members, through a successful Kickstarter campaign, and environmental grants from environmental and community-minded companies including Patagonia, Whole Foods Market, and Subaru.

As a larger effort, Urban Rivers intends to rehabilitate the entire east side of Goose Island to serve as Chicago's first urban wildlife sanctuary in the Chicago River. Urban Rivers will continue to fundraise to hit their goal of extending this park from 200ft to a half mile by 2020. Looking beyond Chicago, this installation will be tested and refined to serve as a blueprint to be replicated in other urban rivers around the world. You can support Urban Rivers by donating or by signing up to volunteer.

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