Saturday, June 4, 2011

Rediscovering the Chicago shoreline

We recently completed and delivered a presentation called "Paddling in Chicago," a historical journey down Chicago's manmade coastline that explained why and how today's familiar features were created. In the process, we learned things we didn't previously know, and rekindled our own interest in our local shoreline.

Today we returned to one of the places that fascinate us most: the far South Side, where the shoreline is built of cast-off relics from the demise of the US Steel Southworks plant. At its peak, the plant employed 20,000 people and produced beams that were used in the Sears Tower and other skyscrapers. When it closed in 1992, it left behind a pile of twisted steel and concrete boulders, weeds and imporverished neighborhoods.

A peaceful docking spot.
And yet, this section of the shoreline is lovely. The massive slabs of casting material look like volacanic boulders; broken-up hunks of concrete buildings and staircases seem like strangely sculpted rocks.

Elsewhere this might be a lichen-covered rock. Here it is a steel-impregnated casting slab.
A piece of rebar stands in for a sturdy root or belay rope.
That "standing in your boat" game turns out to have a practical application.
Chicago's shoreline is anything but natural, and sometimes we mourn the lack of wild spaces around here. But after industry leaves, nature starts to take over, and there is a pleasing, post-urban quality to this stretch of shoreline. The more we learn about it, the more we appreciate it. 

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