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Update: Robert McClory Bike Path Enhancement Project

This week, the Highland Park Forestry division began work removing buckthorn along the Green Bay Trail as a part of the Robert McClory Bike Path Enhancement Project.

The astounding natural beauty of Highland Park plays a large role in many residents’ preference to live here. Large, mature trees line the streets and yards. Many homes abut the natural ravines and several public parks overlook Lake Michigan. However, unlike our ravines which still possess ecological integrity despite nearby urbanization, the strip of land known as Robert McClory bike path (Green Bay Trail) is a local treasure that requires routine upkeep and improvements. The bike path and walking path was built upon an abandoned railroad bed, and large portion of the vegetation that took root next to the trail was not desirable. Buckthorn is a highly aggressive non-native invasive and is illegal to sell or propagate in Illinois because the negative effects of this plant on our natural ecosystems are so profound. These effects are too numerous to list them all, but include poisoning amphibians, changing soil pH in their favor and against native species, forming thickets which encourages soil erosion, and out-competing native species thus depriving wildlife of critical habitat. Buckthorn has also been linked to declining oak regeneration, the very same oaks that define the character of Highland Park’s majestic urban forest.

An ecological restoration enhancement project on Green Bay Trail to reclaim land from invasive species and establish pollinator habitat was first instigated in Spring 2017 by the collaborative efforts of City of Highland Park, Park District of Highland Park, and resident volunteers. The goal of the project is to improve the experience of trail users and improve the ecological value of the land by replacing buckthorn with native wildflowers, shrubs, and trees. Dramatic and sudden change to our urban greenspaces can be perceived as inconsiderate or brash, but Forestry Section staff has taken measures to make our ecological restoration efforts as painless as possible for the community as we reclaim land from buckthorn including notifications and signage, public education efforts, volunteer involvement, and even leaving some buckthorn in place as a screen for neighbors until native shrubs are established enough to replace that screen. Some change in aesthetics is inevitable as buckthorn thickets are removed, but native screening is being replanted wherever buckthorn screens are removed to provide the feeling of isolation the trail provides – an urban greenspace oasis. The enhancements to the trail will be a huge benefit to trail users, trail neighbors, our whole community, to wildlife, and to our urban ecosystem.

The Public Works Department Forestry Section Staff assessed the feasibility of improvements on this abandoned vegetable gardens and invasive species along the Robert McClory bike trail and secured grants to perform the work in 2017. The trail improvement limits extend from Lake Cook Rd north to St Johns Train Station. The trail enhancement project will be continued in 2020, including clearing of buckthorn that is occurring in January.

If you need additional information on the Robert McClory Bike Path (Green Bay Trail) enhancements project or general inquiries on Forestry related matters, please contact Keith O’Herrin, Ph.D., City Forester at 847.926.1604 or via koherrin@cityhpil.com