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Ravines Project

What’s New in the Ravines?
Our ravine volunteers are taking part in a Shedd Aquarium research project to document migration of native White Sucker fish that use the ravines each spring.   

Read more here:  Shedd Scientists, Volunteers, Track Migrations of Great Lakes Fish

To get involved, contact:
Rebecca Grill
Natural Areas Manager

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The Highland Park Ravine Project is a dynamic effort to understand, restore and promote the value of the unique ravine ecosystems in our community.   We hope this project will create a ripple effect along this part of Lake Michigan, encouraging residents and other communities to become good stewards of their land and water.

These distinctive geologic landforms are rare and vulnerable, and our town is home to more of them than any other community on the northshore.  They represent the last natural drainage to Lake Michigan, one of the world’s greatest freshwater resources.

Volunteer workdays, field trips, education programs and special events help us share what we have learned about  these special places.  For more information contact our Volunteer Coordinator by calling 847-571-7740.

Healthy ravines for healthy watersheds

Our Partners

We work to protect the ravine environment through partnership with the City of Highland Park, the Gary Borger chapter of Trout Unlimited, Highland Park High School, local elementary schools and countless other members of the community. Our efforts are supported by the USEPA’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI),  the US Army Corps of Engineers Great Lakes Fishery and Ecosystem Restoration (GLFER) program and the IDNR’s Illinois Coastal Management Program (ICMP).

History of the Project

In 2010, the Park District received GLRI funding to work with the North Shore Sanitary District and the City of Highland Park to lower barriers to fish passage at Ravine Drive Beach.  Completed in 2013, the project restored fish habitat along a 1,000 foot stretch of the stream.  We also created educational signage and a Ravine Education Program Guide for students.

In July 2011, scientists from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found young lake chub, white suckers, rainbow trout and also adult longnose dace (an Illinois Species in Greatest Need of Conservation) in the restored outfall at Ravine 7L (Ravine Drive/Millard Park).

In November 2014, contractors working for the Army Corps tore out a large culvert (tunnel) that had been blocking fish passage at Rosewood Beach.  This is part of a major restoration effort to bring the ravine stream, slopes and lake bluff back to biological health.  The District also received funding from the ICMP to develop technology based educational materials and signage for the new Interpretive Center there.

In 2015, we began the planning process for additional improvements to Ravine Drive Beach and also Ravine 10 which runs through Moraine Park.  This effort is supported by ICMP funding.

The Restoration Process

On their way upstream, pools are natural places for fish to rest and hide from predators. Fish ladders were built to allow fish to move upstream more easily, from pool to pool. Rock overhangs were constructed above the pools to provide additional places to hide.

Restoration Process

These are designed to mimic natural cover such as tree roots that hang out over cuts in the banks. Streams are naturally narrow and meandering with varied flow and depth. Urban streams become broad straight and uniformly shallow due to erosion. A key part of restoration has been renewing stream structure so the flow is deeper, varied and better directed.

How Sustainable are Our Efforts?

Streams are dynamic systems that change daily, seasonally and annually. Part of our work is documenting these cycles. We want to make sure that the restoration we do now will function in the future. We need to understand how the structures we build (pools, riffles, shelters and passageways) adapt to fluctuating flows. In part, our success will depend on identifying and addressing issues in the watershed as a whole. We monitor which species reside in the stream – like aquatic insects and fish – and take part in regional data collection.  We especially look to find indicator species, those that need relatively clean, clear water to thrive. The presence of these species is reassurance that we are restoring this land to a healthy and thriving ecosystem.

Community Outreach

A critical goal of this project is to foster a sense of stewardship for the ravines and lake in our community. One example has been working with the Environmental Science classes at Highland Park High School. Students visit the stream and learn about four key concepts: watershed ecology, water monitoring practices, macro invertebrate and fish studies.

This spring, hundreds of students from NSSD 112 will have a unique opportunity to learn about ravines first hand. During April and May, Heller Nature Center staff will lead 5th grade students in science based field trips to learn about water quality, life cycles and healthy habitat.

Another example of our education efforts has been support of the Trout in the Classroom project, in which students raise rainbow trout in their classroom then released the fish into Lake Michigan. Our hope is that these fish will return in a few years to spawn in our ravines. If they do, that will be an indicator that the ravines are a healthy habitat for local wildlife.

History of the Ravines

The ravines are relatively new features on the land. They are younger even than the lake bluffs (moraines) that were formed 10,000 years ago when the last ice age left deposits of glacial till along the lakefront. Over time, as water ran off over the moraines and into the ancient lake, it cut into the bluffs and formed the channels that we know as the ravines today. In Highland Park, rain that falls east of Green Bay Road (which is a sub-continental divide) drains to the Lake Michigan Watershed. These ravines are the signature feature of the Lake Michigan watershed in our community. Together with other ravine systems along the north shore, they represent one of the last natural drainages to Lake Michigan in Illinois.

Goals Moving Forward

As an ongoing project we have many goals moving forward and an ultimate vision of our streams as healthy habitats for our whole community to enjoy. Some of these goals include:

  • increasing awareness and engaging the whole watershed to care about this ecosystem,
  • increasing species diversity of plant and animal life,
  • continuing to research and record biotic and abiotic health in the water,
  • develop a watershed plan that addresses many issues, including:
  • partnering with neighboring landowners to restore the ravines more completely,
  • fostering better storm-water practices throughout each ravine sub-watershed,
  • curtailing natural and man made erosion that constantly changes the land we restore,
  • addressing changes in land use such as increases in impervious surface areas,
  • adapting to changes in the climate that impact which plant and animal species thrive in this ecosystems, and
  • controlling invasive species on private and public property that cuts off sunlight to native ground cover plants, leaving bare and easily eroded soil.

For more information, check out our resources page.

What is Native? What is Not? Why Does it Matter?

Bellwort in Ravinia

Plants that are native to northern Illinois –those that evolved with the climate, people and creatures that emerged on the land after the last era of the Ice Age 10,000 years ago–are not only important to protect in our natural areas but can also be used to create a functional and beautiful landscape in our parks and around our homes and businesses.

There is increasing concern about the damage done by invasive plants, especially those that did not evolve in our geographical region.  These non-native plants were brought here either deliberately or are introduced through natural forces (wind, water, soil movements) or people(through movement of goods, creation of corridors and escapes from agriculture and gardens).

Ravine Habitat

Ravines are a unique habitat that occur along the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan. The climate in ravines differ from the surrounding areas because they are cooler and tend to be more shaded. Ravines are home to many unique plant and animal species that are not always found in the neighboring upland areas. Plant species such as sharp-lobed hepatica, yellow bellwort and large flower trillium can be seen blooming in early spring in the ravines before trees have the opportunity to fully leaf out.

Native Plants for Ravines

Another treasure of the ravine systems is their importance to fish in early spring. Each spring, typically after significant rainfall, native white suckers leave the lake and head upstream to spawn in the ravine streams. Since 2013, the Park District of Highland Park in partnership with Trout Unlimited and Illinois Department of Natural Resources has released rainbow trout into the streams. The trout are raised by local Highland Park students through a program called Trout in the Classroom.

Aquatic Invasives

A recent focus has been on aquatic invasive plants.  Some species such as Hydrilla verticillata are “superweeds” that can grow an inch per day and form dense mats of vegetation at the water surface.

The Park District of Highland Park and the Chicago Botanic Garden have partnered to create a new water garden at the Fountain of the Blue Heron in Jens Jensen Park.  The water garden features over a dozen species of native aquatic plants, which are beautiful alternatives to commonly-used invasive plants that can harm our lakes, ponds and streams.  These native plants enhance the serene tranquility of the park, while providing a welcoming habitat for butterflies, dragonflies and other beneficial insects.

To learn more about aquatic plants including native alternatives, check out these links:

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant’s Brochure on Invasive Aquatic Plants: What Every Plant Enthusiast Needs to Know

Penn State Extension’s Webpage on Aquatic Invasive Species & Water Gardens

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ Brochure on Aquatic Invasive Plants

Minnesota Sea Grant’s Webpage on Aquatic Invasive Species and Water Gardening

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant’s Aquatic Invasive Species

In the water of the Fountain of the Blue Heron, you will find:

  • Acorus Americanus (sweet flag)
  • Carex Lacustris (common lake sedge)
  • Decodon Verticillatus (swamp loosestrife)
  • Iris Virginica Var. Shrevei (blue flag iris)
  • Juncus Eeffusus (common rush)
  • Justicia Americana (water willow)
  • Nuphar Advena (yellow pond lily)
  • Peltandra Virginica (arrow arum)
  • Pontederia Cordata (pickerel weed)
  • Rumex Verticillatus (swamp dock)
  • Sagittaria Latifolia (common arrowhead)
  • Saururus Cernuus (lizard’s tail)
  • Schoenoplectus Acutus (hard-stemmed bulrush)
  • Schoenoplectus Tabernaemontani (great bulrush or soft-stemmed bulrush)
REP cover

Right Click to Download the Guide

Welcome to the Ravine Education Program Guide!

Highland Park is home to a rare and complex system of ravines linking the land with Lake Michigan, and this Ravine Education Program Guide aims to make this system more accessible for you and your students.

Through guided observation and exploration of the ravines, these lesson plans and classroom activities will enable your 4th-8th grade students to understand ecosystems prior to development, the plants and animals that historically used the slopes and streams as refuge, and the species that still depend on ravines today. Additionally, the Guide is linked to Next Generation Science Standards, putting instructors in a unique position to use their local place to provide students with an internationally benchmarked science education.

The Park District of Highland Park aims to preserve and restore the ravines to provide the best possible habitat for the native plant and animal species that call the ravines home. The PDHP currently oversees a particularly exciting project striving to restore the ravine system at Ravine Drive. Funded by the USEPA’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the project resulted in improvements to fish spawning habitat.

Watershed Maps

Four Individual Sections

Hydrology of the Watershed
Measuring Stream and Biotic Health
Aquatic Life in Streams and Nearshore
Are You Fish Friendly

Ravine Short Stories
Ravine Seasons
Are You Fish Friendly
Restoration Process