This park was formerly the South Works manufacturing plant, part of the U.S. Steel Corporation. We’re currently in the South Chicago neighborhood, which belongs to broader Southeast Side of Chicago. Along with South Chicago, the other neighborhoods that make up the Southeast Side are South Deering, East Side, and Hegewisch. The Southeast Side is part of the Calumet region, which spans across parts of Illinois and Indiana and represents the area drained by the Grand Calumet and Little Calumet Rivers.
Steelworkers Park and Park 566, which is to our north on the other side of the slip, both sit on the site of the former US Steel South Works Plant. After the mill closed, toxins such as petroleum hydrocarbons, phenols, and benzene––all hazardous to the health of humans and wildlife––were left behind in the soil we now stand on. From 1994 to 1996, the soil was remediated to remove the toxins, and in 1997 the site was deemed safe for public use. Remediation activities, however, did not stop there. The parks may have been ruled safe for human activity in 1997, but they were not yet open to the public. From 2004 to 2013, both Steelworkers Park and Park 566 received sediment dredged from Lake Peoria and the Illinois River through the innovative Mud-to-Parks program that aimed to clear bodies of water clogged with sediment and simultaneously create new recreational space like Steelworkers Park. Park 566 is still undergoing restoration and much of the land is still owned by US Steel, but CPD developed Steelworkers Park into this recreation space that you see here. They’ve made some improvements beyond simple remediation; on the ore wall, you can see a climbing wall that CPD installed.
In addition to recreational activity for humans, the wall now hosts some of the wildlife that called the Calumet region home even before the arrival of the steel mills; we will learn more about the specific plants and animals in the region later in the tour. CPD has been instrumental in restoring parks in Southeast Chicago. Other park sites including Big Marsh, Indian Ridge Marsh, and Hegewisch Marsh have all benefited from CPD actions such as controlled burns and native plantings designed to reestablish prairie communities. We will see the signs of these as we walk around today. We would also like to thank all of the people who helped us as we put together this tour, especially all those who we interviewed. Your perspectives on the history and ecology of the Southeast Side and the Calumet region have been extremely valuable to us as we learned more about this complex region.If you enjoy our tour here today and want to learn more about the Calumet region and the Chicago Park District, the Ford Calumet Environment Center will open during the Autumn of 2019 at Big Marsh Park.