The Burnham Wildlife Corridor

Lakefront Gathering Spaces/The Burnham Wildlife Corridor
Chicago Park District
Written By Chicago Park District

The Chicago Park District owns more than 8,800 acres of parkland, making it the largest municipal park manager in the nation. Visit the Chicago Park District's 597 parks, 26 miles of lakefront, 70 nature areas, & hundreds of programs.

Welcome to the Burnham Wildlife Corridor Natural Area

The Burnham Wildlife Corridor (BWC) is a meandering area of urban wilderness running through Burnham Park. It stretches from McCormick Place in the north to East 47th Street in the south, making it the largest and longest expanse of natural areas along the Chicago lakefront. The BWC's native ecosystems provide healthy, diverse habitats for migratory birds and other wildlife, and offer opportunities for visitors to meaningfully connect to this revitalized public green space in ways that inspire nature exploration, enjoyment, and stewardship.

What is a natural area?

Chicago Park District Natural Areas are representative of the native habitat types of the Chicago region, including prairies, wetlands, woodlands, and dunes. They are dedicated to the cultivation and enrichment of ecological diversity, nature exploration, learning, and the enlivening of the human spirit. There is a dual mission driving the development of natural areas like the BWC: (1) to create and maintain habitat for native plants and animals, and (2) to provide opportunities for members of the public to interact with and learn about nature in the city. The BWC Gathering Spaces speak to both of these goals. Their materials and designs pay homage to and respect the natural plant and animal life around them. And, they provide areas for members of the nearby communities of Bronzeville, Chinatown, and Pilsen -- and the rest of Chicago -- to enjoy the immense, natural beauty that exists right in the heart of the city.

plant and animal life in the BWC

The BWC is a vibrant and diverse place for wildlife to forage and find refuge, particularly the more than three million migratory birds that fly through Chicago annually. In addition to birds, the BWC is home to thousands of plant and wildlife species including wildflowers, grasses, trees, caterpillars, butterflies, and furry friends. Use the plant and animal field guides located in kiosks at the McCormick Bird Sanctuary, 31st Street, 39th Street, and 47th Street to help you spot and identify species. 

The Burnham wildlife corridor contains three types of native ecosystems: prairie, savanna, and woodland

Prairies are ecosystems considered part of the temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands biome by ecologists, based on similar temperate climates, moderate rainfall, and a composition of grasses, herbs, and shrubs, rather than trees, as the dominant vegetation type.

A savanna is a mixed woodland-grassland ecosystem characterized by the trees being sufficiently widely spaced so that the canopy does not close. The open canopy allows sufficient light to reach the ground to support an unbroken herbaceous layer consisting primarily of grasses.

A woodland is a low-density forest forming open habitats with plenty of sunlight and limited shade. Woodlands may support an understory of shrubs and herbaceous plants including grasses. 

Watch the video below to learn about the process of transforming the Burnham Wildlife Corridor into an official Chicago Park District Natural Area. 

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