All hands on deck for 2019 events at Chicago’s Indian Ridge Marsh

Do any of the following sound like a grand day out to you in Chicago’s Calumet region?

  • Beginner-friendly birding on May 25 to scope out scaups, sandpipers, and stilts along the shores of a hemi-marsh restoration-in-progress (with its own iNaturalist hotspot), followed by some hands-on fun planting native sedges that will help increase bird habitat.

  • A sunset walk on July 26 through a burgeoning oak savanna with TWI’s Trevor Edmonson, stopping along the way to identify members of a cryptic clade: moths!

  • A celebratory hunt on August 4 for the botanical Bigfoot of Chicago—a minuscule mushroom-dependent flower known as Thismia americana—followed by lunch, games, and storytelling by local luminaries.

If any of these activities catch your fancy, great news: These events and more are coming to Indian Ridge Marsh in 2019.

Partnerships among the Wetlands Initiative, Audubon Great Lakes, Chicago Park District, and Illinois Soybean Association have been the key to organizing this ambitious series of free community events. All four partners are playing a role in the May 25 celebration of International Migratory Bird Day, for example. The 9:00 a.m. bird walk will be led by experts from Audubon Great Lakes along the shores of Indian Ridge Marsh. After birding, TWI and Chicago Park District restoration staff will head up the plug-planting portion of the day, providing supplies and native seedlings and teaching volunteers proper planting technique. Meanwhile, the Illinois Soybean Association will be providing biodiesel-fueled transportation to Indian Ridge Marsh from several pick-up spots on the South Side including a community center in Pullman and Bridgeport Coffee in Hyde Park.

Last spring’s biggest plug-planting volunteer day brought more than 90 people out to Indian Ridge Marsh and inspired this year’s expanded schedule of community opportunities. Photo by Gary Sullivan/TWI .

Last spring’s biggest plug-planting volunteer day brought more than 90 people out to Indian Ridge Marsh and inspired this year’s expanded schedule of community opportunities. Photo by Gary Sullivan/TWI.

Teri Valenzuela, Stewardship Program Associate at Audubon Great Lakes, can’t wait for this year’s full slate of community-engagement activities: “Growing these natural spaces into beautiful places for people, water, and a cleaner and more resilient Great Lakes is the best part of Indian Ridge Marsh community stewardship days.”

Seasoned volunteers will notice that the 2019 roster of community stewardship days includes more diverse activities than ever. While classic stewardship activities like cutting buckthorn, planting seedlings, and collecting seed are all on this year’s menu, the partners are also scheduling a range of new events to engage even more nature lovers of all ages.

The National Moth Week Celebration on July 26 is one such activity. Leading it is TWI’s own Trevor Edmonson, project manager at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, who fell in love with these fleeting creatures while “mothing” with expert Frank Hitchell last summer at our Dixon Waterfowl Refuge BioBlitz. “For every one butterfly in Illinois there are at least 20 moth species, and they are most active when we’re asleep,” he enthuses. “For us, they’re out of sight, out of mind, yet they play a huge role in every ecosystem.” Taking place from 7:00 to 9:00 in the evening, it will be the first nighttime event at Indian Ridge Marsh, with cooperation from the Chicago Park District and local police making it possible.

In 2019, the Indian Ridge Marsh restoration partners are expanding their work area and hoping for even more volunteer assistance. Map by Jim Monchak/TWI.

Even events held in the past will be bigger and better than before. Hunts for Chicago’s only endemic flower, Thismia americana, have occurred across the Calumet region for years. This strange colorless flower, subsisting on nutrients from nearby fungi rather than through photosynthesis, was first spotted in 1912 by the young University of Chicago student Norma Pfeiffer at—you guessed it—Indian Ridge Marsh. As the story goes, the flower was last seen in 1916, driven to possible extinction by the rise of industry in the Calumet region. But the plant’s history is shrouded in intrigue. Could relatives of a genus found in Australia and New Zealand really turn up in a Chicago steel mill’s backyard? Botanists have debated the question for decades.

The doubters haven’t stopped T. americana believers from searching for the tiny, elusive bloom—and getting their eyes down to plant-level to do so. “Hunting Thismia really helps you stay grounded to the earth,” laughs Edmonson, “literally and figuratively.” This year Edmonson and Valenzuela have cooked up a bunch of new Thismia activities for the August 4 hunt. In addition to the usual crawling around and looking under leaves, there will be games including themed scavenger hunts, a picnic, and Calumet residents telling stories about the region’s rich history.

If you make it out to any of the Indian Ridge Marsh community activities scheduled for this year, keep your eyes peeled for someone in a Wetlands Initiative cap and be sure to say hello!

Learn more about the full schedule of Indian Ridge Marsh community events here.