Facility Profile - April 2009
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Sharing the Lakefront

Chicago Park District Lakefront & Beaches, Chicago

By Dana Carman

The City of Chicago features breathtaking architecture, cultural icons and, of course, deep-dish pizza. But the crown jewels of the city are its lakefront parks and beaches showcasing the beautiful Lake Michigan. And in both, it's not just the city's inhabitants and visitors that like to patronize them. There's a whole host of wildlife, even in the city, that also likes to spend time there. While rabbits, raccoons and beavers offer their own challenges, the primary source of problems are the Canada geese and ring-billed gulls.

Particularly problematic are the levels of E. coli that are found in the water along some of the most popular beaches—popular especially for the birds. Additionally, the geese can become aggressive during their nesting season, and, let's be honest, they poop all over the place (hence, the E. coli). Zhanna Yermakov, the natural areas manager for the Chicago Park District (CPD), said that often you get hundreds of geese in a small area, which makes it all that much more, well, gross.

According to Ellen Sargent, deputy director of natural resources for the CPD, the lakefront beaches do not close as a result of high E. coli levels, but swimming is prohibited when levels reach an unsafe limit, in compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency's guidelines. Unfortunately, those levels were being reached at many beaches.

The CPD takes a several-pronged approach to ensuring the safety of the wildlife while reducing the nuisance they pose. Because E. coli can end up in the water in a variety of ways—off the sand, runoff, through lagoons, etc.—the CPD utilizes several methods.

The first is the Canada Geese Program, which started in 2006 in four parks. The goal is to reduce the population by not letting their eggs hatch. Before you worry someone is taking eggs and smashing them, you should know the process is called egg depredation and is described as basically stopping the development of the egg early on by Carla Wagner, the director of operations and research at Wild Goose Chase, based in LaGrange, Ill., outside Chicago. The process can be done in a number of ways, but Wild Goose Chase coats the eggs in corn oil, which clogs the pores of the shells so no gases are exchanged and thus stops the development. The Humane Society of the United States recommends performing the task up to 14 days after the eggs have been laid, which Wild Goose Chase complies with. Once the eggs have been oiled, they are placed back into the nest because if the eggs are simply removed and unreturned, the geese just re-nest.

This process protects the current population while also controlling the future populations and has yielded some impressive results according to Yermakov. In 2007, 261 nests in 11 parks resulted in 1,258 eggs, and in 2008, 13 parks yielded 317 nests and 1,478 eggs. "Because we really expanded the program, we went through this community process," Yermakov said. "We told the public about it so they could ask questions and help us locate nests."