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Thursday, September 26

New Open Letter in Support of Horner Park River Restoration from John O'Connell (Friend of the Parks, Friends of the Chicago River)

John writes a damned good letter. Here's his letter to Gary Jereb of Illinois Department of Natural Resources after Thursday night's "highly unusual" meeting:

Dear Mr. Jereb,

I would like to thank the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for this past evening's gathering at Revere Park, allowing concerned citizens the opportunity to learn more about the proposed riverbank restoration project, and to voice their opinions and concerns on its merits and faults.

During my address, I noted that I represented Friends of the Parks, where I have worked for over ten years as Vice President.  I reiterate that Friends of the Parks is strongly in favor of this modified plan, one that has been painstakingly reviewed and revised by the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Chicago Park District, who have graciously and adeptly taken into account the views of all parties interested in this proposal, and who have, to the best of their abilities, crafted a plan that seeks to meet the needs of all constituents, for the greater good of the long term health and vitality of our park and its riverbank.

I also mentioned that I am a founding member of the Horner Park Advisory Council, still active after 25 years in most of its committees and initiatives.  I neglected to mention that for the past 24 years, I have organized Earth Day clean ups at Horner Park and its sister parks of Ravenswood Manor Park, Buffalo Park, Sunken Gardens Park, and Jacob Park.  I am also a member of Friends of the Chicago River, which partnered with the Horner Park Advisory Council 15 years ago to study our riverbank, to jointly offer public meetings dating back to at least February of 2001 on the initial proposal, and which has supported this project over these many years.

As a member of Friends of the River, for at least the last 15 years I have been captain of their River stewardship day each May at Horner Park, organizing dozens of volunteers to pick up trash and remove invasive species on both sides of the rusty fence that hugs the upper bank.  I can say from those many years of experience that I honestly know every inch of that riverbank, both the smooth upland field east of the bike path and the precarious and treacherous steep and eroding grade east of the fence.  I have long desired to not only see more and safer access to the river, but also a means to keep that land cleaner, and not be a haven for the unfortunate homeless who habitually seek shelter there.  This plan will allow for that greater public access to the river, permitting our entire park to be cleaner, safer, and less polluted with the debris of uncaring visitors.

I am sympathetic to the views of a vocal minority who, for only the past few weeks have awakened to the potential removal of many trees along this stretch of our river.  Many seek to preserve their views from across the river, and fear any change that could temporarily disrupt their vista, or dislodge the avian and fauna species that inhabit that area.  With education and guidance, it is my hope that they see the wisdom of this plan, that we have a rare opportunity to provide for future generations a more natural state, and a home for all the birds, beasts and plants that yearn for a return to a more pristine prairie ecology.

Trees are an important concern.  Indeed, a bellwether of society is its ability to provide for trees and the countless benefits they provide for our environment.  This plan, while for the most part does remove many trees along the lower ridge to allow for a more safe and natural tapering, has been extensively modified to only selectively remove those "upland" trees that prohibit the regrading, are invasive, or are diseased or near the end of their natural life.  With this modification, many trees will be saved, and many more will be planted, providing the basis of a long term management of this resource, and preparing the park for countless decades to come, for the future generations it is our responsibility to represent.

There is an old saying: "The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago.  The next best time to plant a tree is today." It is my fervent hope that you and your colleagues at the IDNR will adhere to this adage and allow this opportunity to restore our riverbank to now move forward, and grant the permit sought by the US Army Corps and the Chicago Park District.

Thank you again for your time, and this chance to express the views of a concerned citizenry.

John O'Connell
Chicago, Illinois 60625
Vice President,
Friends of the Parks

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