“Big Marsh Has Big Plans.” That’s the newspaper headline I’d write if I were covering the ongoing environmental restoration and nature and recreational development efforts at Big Marsh Park (11555 S. Stony Island Avenue, Chicago, IL 60617) on Chicago’s far Southeast Side. This natural area is located on 297 acres of reclaimed industrial land on the eastern shore of Lake Calumet, which is the largest body of water in the city of Chicago. Until 2002, Acme Steel Co. operated a coke plant (which is the main source of carbon used in steelmaking) that overlooked Big Marsh. During its industrial era, some of the Great Marsh wetland “was filled with the steel industry’s slag, reaching depths up to 15 feet and taking up 88 acres of the 300 acres in the area,” according to the Great Lakes Phragmites Collaborative. The City of Chicago acquired the property in the early 2000s, and the Chicago Park District acquired Big Marsh (which is officially known as Park 564…that really rolls off the tongue) from the city in 2011. Environmental restoration and remediation (including the removal of invasive species) began in earnest, and the park opened to the public in 2016 with the first components of a bike park, access to nature trails, and plans for an environmental education center that will serve as a community focal point for nature education and exploration in Chicago’s often overlooked Southland.
Flash forward to present day. Big Marsh Park has arrived in a big way. It’s become a popular destination for biking, hiking, and nature appreciation (especially birding). Big Marsh Park is probably best known for its unique biking opportunities. There are a variety of options that are still being developed and expanded, including:
✔ a single-track that includes wooden rollers, ladder bridges, and other features;
✔ three jump lines for BMX and dirt jumping enthusiasts of all skill levels; and
✔ two world-class, asphalt pump tracks, which provide nearly 33,000 square feet of year-round fun for people of all ages and abilities.
These options are amazing, and Big Marsh is becoming a biking recreation mecca that attracts people from throughout Chicagoland.
There is also great hiking at Big Marsh Park on a variety of formal and informal hiking trails that take you along its many ponds and marshes, and through its woods and other natural areas. Two of its main trails can be found to the left and right of a short pier that leads to the marsh overlook. If you face the marsh, the Beaver Tree Trail is located to your left. On this trail, you’ll travel through hilly, wooded terrain and along marshland. The trail to the right of the pier is called Deer Bone Point Trail. This path takes you along the shores of Big Marsh and neighboring wetlands. You might see turtles, white-tailed deer, beavers, muskrats, and coyotes during your hike, and you’ll see a variety of birds (including egrets, herons, eagles, gulls, kingfishers, cranes, and ducks). In fact, more than 240 bird species have been spotted at Big Marsh Park, and some call it Chicago’s “Hidden Birding Mecca.” The birding website eBird offers a complete list of birds sighted at Big Marsh Park.
The Ford Calumet Environmental Center (FCEC) opened onsite in late 2021. The FCEC is a beautiful education facility that has a wealth of exhibits about the region’s natural and cultural history and live animal exhibits that feature fish, toads, snakes, and turtles. It also has classroom spaces and other amenities. There are picnicing and grilling areas near the center. Planned additions to Big Marsh Park include a primitive camping area with 12 tent pads, a wildlife observation platform, and a fully accessible, three-mile trail that will take visitors to previously unreachable areas of the park.
Big Marsh Park has so much promise, and it’s already amazing. I’m excited about what the future holds for the park and environmental restoration and reclamation in Chicago’s Southland. Get in on the fun and head to Big Marsh Park for a great day of biking, hiking, and birdwatching.
Sunrise to sunset, Monday to Friday
8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Saturday and Sunday
Dogs Allowed?: No
What You Can Do There: Bicycling (Divvy rentals are available on site), Birdwatching, Camping (coming soon), Hiking, Nature Center, Photography, Picnicking, Running/Exercise, Self-Enrichment and Educational Programs, Snowshoeing
Parking: There is a charge for parking, which seems completely wrong at one of our city parks (which are supposed to be free respites for its residents and visitors), but that’s the way things are unfortunately in Chicago these days.
Visit the Friends of Big Marsh website for more information.
Copyright (text/photos) Andrew Morkes
Looking for some great nature destinations in Chicagoland? If so, I just published Nature in Chicagoland: More Than 120 Fantastic Nature Destinations That You Must Visit. It features amazing destinations in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Click on the title to learn more.
ABOUT ANDREW MORKES
I have been a writer and editor for more than 25 years. I’m the founder of College & Career Press (2002); the editorial director of the CAM Report career newsletter and College Spotlightnewsletter; the author and publisher of “The Morkes Report: College and Career Planning Trends” blog; and the author and publisher of Hot Health Care Careers: 30 Occupations With Fast Growth and Many New Job Openings; Nontraditional Careers for Women and Men: More Than 30 Great Jobs for Women and Men With Apprenticeships Through PhDs; They Teach That in College!?: A Resource Guide to More Than 100 Interesting College Majors, which was selected as one of the best books of the year by the library journal Voice of Youth Advocates; and other titles. They Teach That in College!? provides more information on environmental- and sustainability-related majors such as Ecotourism, Range Management, Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Built Environment, Sustainability Studies, and Sustainable Agriculture/Organic Farming. I’m also a member of the parent advisory board at my son’s school.
In addition to these publications, I’ve written more than 40 books about careers for other publishing and media companies including Infobase (such as the venerable Encyclopedia of Careers & Vocational Guidance, the Vault Career Guide to Accounting, and many volumes in the Careers in Focus, Discovering Careers, What Can I Do Now?!, and Career Skills Library series) and Mason Crest (including those in the Careers in the Building Trades and Cool Careers in Science series).
My poetry has appeared in Cadence, Wisconsin Review, Poetry Motel, Strong Coffee, and Mid-America Review.