Facility Profile - April 2009
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Sharing the Lakefront

Chicago Park District Lakefront & Beaches, Chicago

By Dana Carman

Additionally, there are other solutions the CPD employs, such as geese deterrents sprayed onto the turf; signage to remind people not to feed the geese; and the planting of native vegetation, which the geese don't feel comfortable around. Through Wild Goose Chase, the CPD has also utilized the services of border collies to chase the birds off a particular spot.

A more in-depth use of the border collies can be found in the management of the ring-billed gulls that love the Lake Michigan beaches. According to Sargent, the CPD has looked at the possible ways E. coli could be entering the water, one of which is through the gulls. In 2006, a few mitigation programs were put in place, such as a grid-wire system to deter the birds from landing; 4,000 new lidded trash and recycling bins to replace 50-gallon barrels; and signage educating patrons not to feed the birds.

But it was the collies that saw the significant decrease. For a pilot period in 2006, the border collies worked the beaches twice a day and it was determined that their presence resulted in a 30 percent decrease in gulls during a one-month stretch. So in 2007, it was piloted at two busy beaches with the collies and handlers alternating the times of day they appeared. There was a significant decrease. However, at the CPD's most challenging site, the 63rd Street Beach, the E. coli situation was still a problem. The topography of the beach (it's shallow) makes it a more prime target for the bacteria runoff.

In 2008, still hard at work on this problem, the CPD looked into all the ways the E. coli could be getting into the water. "We didn't find the smoking gun," Sargent said. But it was determined that if you kick it off the beach, the amount in the water will decrease.

Two dogs and handlers were dispatched at 63rd Street Beach and 57th Street Beach from dawn until dusk. "The goal was that not one gull would land on the beach from Memorial Day until Labor Day," Sargent said. "We had a banner season in that we had a decrease over all of our beaches." But more specifically, at 63rd Street Beach, the CPD saw a 91 percent decrease in E. coli levels exceeding the max. "The beach was open to swimming the entire season," Sargent said, also noting that this huge change came at the most challenging site.

That is worth noting because as mentioned earlier, the topography varies per site and each beach presents its own unique factors, which is why the dogs aren't utilized at every site. Additionally, there are other sources of E. coli, but by reducing the avian E. coli—a major source—"you are reducing the number of exceedances you have for a swimming season," Sargent said.

Last year, the CPD also piloted a sand cleaning program as research pioneered in Racine, Wis., showed that bacteria can become trapped under the sand and fester. The beaches had always been groomed, but according to Sargent, the groomer was almost sealing in the bacteria, so it was determined that a special type of rake was needed to expose any trapped bacteria to the UV rays and air to kill it. Enter H. Barber and Sons, which had been providing beach-cleaning equipment to the CPD, and the creation of the "Chicago Rake," which is similar to the company's already-existing beach cleaning surf rake but is capable of digging an additional four inches into the sand to really get those grooves opened up and kill the bacteria. It is dubbed the Chicago Rake as the company developed it specifically for the needs of the CPD.

As it continues exploring the methods and ways it can even further alleviate the nuisance wildlife poses while still maintaining one of the things that makes urban natural areas great, the CPD has illustrated that persistence truly pays off.


Chicago Park District:

H. Barber & Sons Inc.:

Wild Goose Chase: