Magic Hedge project leaves many frustrated, scratching their heads

Bird sanctuary closed through August to construct accessible path that is part of 2015 site plan.

I’ve learned a few things in my years of PR and communications. When dealing with a sticky issue engage with all your stakeholders early on, even your opponents. Overcommunicate by providing constant updates. Set the table and then invite people to it. Give all parties an honest airing.

One other key lesson: timeliness. Something that’s important today inevitably is going to change over time. So will the key stakeholders and the context. That’s even more true after the upheaval of the last few years. There are always new folks getting more attuned to an issue, becoming more interested and engaged.

On June 18 I wrote for paid subscribers about the construction under way that has closed Lincoln Park’s Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary, home of the famed Magic Hedge and one of the Midwest’s most important migratory bird locations. Approximately 350 species have been identified here through the years making it No. 1 in Illinois. It has its share of nesting species as well.

I wrote a somewhat tongue-in-cheek piece, and I made a comparison to the 1980s comedy “Vacation,” featuring Chevy Chase attempting to visit the Wally World amusement park:

In Canada, their point that juts out into Lake Erie, Point Pelee, is a national park and considered a treasure. Hard to fathom it being closed. Here, our point, on Chicago Park District land, is closed for repairs. Just like Wally World. 

There’s nothing wrong with sprucing up the bird sanctuary, engaging in habitat restoration and putting in an accessible path, as is happening now. Maybe even closing off portions of the sanctuary. But people do want to be in on the plan, especially with a place as beloved to nature-starved city dwellers. Thousands of people utilize this site for all sorts of reasons. Birding, yes, but also for a little fresh air, a change of scenery and communion with nature. 

The above photo was provided to me 10 days ago. Seeing the extent of the construction is alarming, even more so when there’s been relatively little communication. Many of us know exactly which native grasses and forbs have been affected. Which of the trees had nesters.

The path project was part of a plan first developed in 2015. There was stakeholder engagement by the Park District at the time. Then the world turned upside-down. And one thing that happened was many new nature enthusiasts came into the fold—people who weren’t birding in 2015. There was a great chance to celebrate what’s special about Montrose while having a dialog about the project and engaging the community. But that time appears to have passed.

Early this year we heard rumblings about path construction again, and signs went up during spring migration. All steps that are appreciated. Still, the communication beyond that was minimal.

Then the new path construction started suddenly on June 15. The whole sanctuary was fenced off, basically for the summer. People who made the trek to see the Magic Hedge for the first time were turned away.

At this point, there may not be much to do but prepare for the next opportunity to educate the Park District and the broader public. In addition to releasing “Monty and Rose II,” I have some personal plans I’ll be sharing soon toward those goals. The environment and our avifauna are too important to ignore. I hope you will keep reading and check this space often. And most of all, stay involved and make your voice heard.

More on Prothonotary Warblers

In mid-May I shared the uncanny experience I had with Prothonotary Warblers in central Illinois. I was on my way back from my second vaccine shot when I encountered a very curious swamp warbler in Woodford County. I’d just visited with Jarod Hitchings in Springfield, where he and other volunteers have installed 270 nest boxes made from milk and juice cartons. 

The latest is that Jarod’s banded at least one singing male with the help of legendary ornithologist and certified bird bander Vern Kleen. Prothonotary Warblers are declining throughout their range and exist only in small numbers along Illinois’ bottomland forests. The goal of banding is to determine reproductive success and site fidelity. It also might help understand nest site selection, migration and even wintering patterns in places like Colombia. 

All of that from just a few simple leg bands. 

TWiB Notes

National Audubon Society recently had a piece on “How to Spot a Faked Wildlife Photo.” I see fakes fairly often on Instagram and occasionally on Facebook. There’s some great insight from Paulo Ordoveza, who debunks suspicious photos online. Those impossibly cute owls may be just that: impossible…..According to a new study, half the trees in two English woodlands were planted by Eurasian Jays. The trees sprouted from acorns cached by jays for winter…..Chicago City Council has passed a measure to create an Urban Forestry Advisory Board to invest in and manage the city’s tree canopy. Trees have suffered in recent years due to the Emerald Ash Borer, neglect and last year’s derecho storm……Indiana residents have been urged to take down their bird feeders as a mysterious illness is affecting area birds. The neurological disease causes swelling of the eyes and a crusty discharge and has been seen as close to Chicago as Lake and Newton counties.

This post was emailed to the free list as well as paid subscribers. You can ensure you never miss a post by becoming a paid subscriber. Ten days ago, paid subscribers read about the trail construction at Montrose Point. By becoming a paid subscriber, you support local storytelling and advocacy for birds and their conservation, while covering a portion of the costs of creating this newsletter each week.