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Rambling outside Wooded Isle: Pondering mysteries and plans

The area around Wooded Isle and Jackson Park is undergoing significant restorations and some up-in-the-air plans.
Credit: Dale Bowman

John Vukmirovich and I eyed the wire fencing blocking the Clarence Darrow Memorial Bridge, and stopped. A jogger of passed us, scuttled along a cement edging, then continued toward the Museum of Science and Industry.

Will. Way.

The mysteries of Wooded Isle and surrounding area keep piling up.

On a grassy hill by the bridge, kids in pale turquoise shirts netted insects and bugs while two adults watched.

I figured it was a Chicago Park District outing, but teachers Philip Matsikas and Lisa Sukenic told me it was a summer class at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, “Gertrude Stein meets Godzilla, while Picasso and Darwin chase Dragonflies.’’

My masters work was in American Studies, so I love crap like that. Vukmirovich, on the other hand, falls in the old-school methods.

I have enough imp that I extended the conversation so Vukmirovich had to come over and listen to the talk of the John Dewey model. And how one text was the 1954 movie, “Them!’’, notable for having a woman doctor and common ants turned mutant by atomic testing.

On a serious note, the mishmash title of that class mirrors the struggle over the multiple uses of the Wooded Isle area of Jackson Park.

Wooded Isle is one of my holy wild spots in Chicago, first introduced to me by Jeff Wyse shortly after I arrived after college. But sharp readers will remember that it was not on my list last month of top wild spots in Chicago.

The Wooded Isle area is undergoing major restoration. It is largely funded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which means areas could be off limits for years.

Vukmirovich bugged me for months to get out and see. I enjoy tramping wild areas around Chicago with him, partly because he knows background, and partly because he slides in literary and cinematic references I sometimes don’t catch until a day later.

Bobolink Meadows.<br>Credit: Dale Bowman
Bobolink Meadows.
Credit: Dale Bowman

From the parking lot off Hayes, we walked the fenced area (peering through links like the Knothole Gang), past the driving range, then into the openness of Bobolink Meadows, a successful restoration project.

We watched Canada geese and a lone blue heron on the East Lagoon. Surprisingly on a sunny day, only a couple turtles sunned on logs.

Workers dotted the fenced restoration area. There is a temporary but sturdy irrigation system in place for the native plantings.

The sign for the Clarence Darrow Memorial Bridge is nearly hidden by growth.<br>Credit: Dale Bowman
The sign for the Clarence Darrow Memorial Bridge is nearly hidden by growth.
Credit: Dale Bowman

The famed Darrow bridge is under the jurisdiction of the Chicago Department of Transportation and likely be several years before being fixed. Jackson Park Watch is a community group keeping tabs on the all the fingers digging into the special area around Wooded Isle (including what was once Osaka Garden).

One of those fingers is Project 120, a private not-for-profit, which has worked with the park district on planning. Some of that planning has gone astonishingly awry, including plans for a music venue, which I think the public will eventually fend off.

At least if people like Vukmirovich have their say.

Afterward, he emailed, “Wooded Island should remain a place dedicated to conservation, education, and the quiet contemplation of nature (as well as of one’s innermost thoughts, for those that still have them). To place a music pavilion in close proximity to it would turn the area into a music venue, a commercial site, antithetical to its true nature. Isn’t this what happened to Northerly Island?’’