A planned “Wild Mile” may transform the Chicago River’s North Branch into an urban oasis

The North Avenue turning basin, part of the planned wild mile, is immediately downriver from the North Side's General Iron Industries. (Caroline Catherman/MEDILL)

By Caroline Catherman

Medill Reports

In 2016, over 18.2 billion gallons of pollution flowed into the Chicago River, according to the Chicago Tribune. Believe it or not, this year brought a significant improvement compared to the many years that came before it. Efforts by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and other organizations have transformed the river, but there’s more work to be done.

Even if the river was spotless, it wouldn’t be an adequate habitat for the many animals that are native to the area, explained Nick Wesley, director of Urban Rivers. This is why Wesley’s organization partnered with the Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill architectural firm, Shedd Aquarium, the city of Chicago, and others in 2017 to begin building the 17-acre Wild Mile, the world’s first mile-long floating eco-park.

Located on the river’s North Branch, near Goose Island, the project may just transform a historically industrial area into a wildlife haven once it is finished.

Caroline Catherman covers health, science, and the environment at Medill. You can follow her on Twitter at @CECatherman.