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Illinois Invests $73 Million To Preserve Pristine Lake Michigan Shoreline At Zion’s State Park

Posted on April 10, 2024

Illinois is pouring $73 million into safeguarding the last undeveloped stretch of Lake Michigan shoreline at Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, according to reports. Funded by the state’s Rebuild Illinois capital program, the project aims to stem erosion that can chop away up to 100 feet of coast per year, per the WQAD News write-up.

Up against the Wisconsin border, the state park spans 6.5 miles – around 10% – of Illinois’ Lake Michigan shoreline. The multi-million-dollar endeavor, known as the Illinois Beach State Park Shoreline Stabilization Project, is constructing 22 breakwater structures that sprawl across 2.2 miles of untouched beach. Lauren Grenlund, a spokesperson for the Illinois Capital Development Board, was obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times admitting, “the beach would continue to slowly migrate and erode” without intervention.

The initiative has garnered attention for its environmentally forward approach, earning the first Midwest freshwater project verification under The Waterfront Alliance’s Waterfront Edge Design Guidelines (WEDG). The approval highlights a project that, according to Grenlund in a statement to the WQAD News, is the “highest standard of waterfront design.”

Protection of endangered species is a core element of the work. Nest structures for migratory shorebirds such as the Caspian tern and the endangered common tern dot the breakwaters. Also, underwater, habitats for aquatic creatures are being sculpted with reclaimed materials from the project’s own waste and native plant species. Joseph Sutkowi, The Waterfront Alliance’s chief waterfront design officer, said in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, “that’s what kind of took this one beyond just a typical breakwaters project, which is often not that environmentally beneficial.”

Mindful of both the beach’s ecological significance and its recreational use, designers are incorporating natural “soft” barriers like driftwood and sunken trees to delineate space without obstructing views. Spaced out and mostly submerged, the breakwater structures promise minimal visual impact. To allow the site remain accessible to the public, introduced barriers have kept construction mainly outside of peak beach-going times. “Substantially complete” around the park’s extremes, work is still on tap for the central beach area this summer, aiming for an August finish, as per infrastructure firm Moffatt & Nichol, involved in the design.


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