Chicago’s Northerly Island

Brings Nature to the Windy City

Funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is restoring a native prairie and marsh ecosystem to Chicago’s Northerly Island in Lake Michigan to provide habitat to native fish and wildlife, and an outdoor recreation space in the city for people.


The land around Chicago has been densely developed for decades, pushing out native species and habitats in favor of paved sidewalks, tall buildings, and parking lots. Restoring native habitat along the Lake Michigan shoreline has become a priority for several groups in the region, including the Shedd Aquarium and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. One area being restored is on Northerly Island, a peninsula that includes iconic Chicago institutions like the Shedd Aquarium, Solider Field, and Field Museum. What was formerly a large field with invasive species now contains rolling hills of oak savanna and prairie. A pond with adjacent marsh has been added to provide a more diverse habitat for native animals. In all, 40 acres on the southern side of the peninsula are being restored, through re-shaping the land and planting many new and native species.

Resource Challenges Addressed

  • Lack of native habitat
  • Invasive species


A field of wildflowers with a lake in the background and the Chicago skyline on the horizon.

The city of Chicago overlooks these Northerly Island wildflowers. The plants provide habitat for native wildlife. Photo credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Results and Accomplishments

The project will be completed by the end of 2017 and the U.S. Army Corps estimates that more than 115 private industry jobs will have been created. In the process, more than $1 million will have been spent on plants alone. More than 200,000 cubic yards of soil have already been shifted to create small hills and valleys needed for the lower marshes and upland woodlands. The project will benefit migratory birds and native reptiles, amphibians, and fish. State threatened fish, including the banded killfish and the mudpuppy will both benefit from the marsh ecosystem.