The 1,000-Mile Great Lakes Adventures

Monday, March 9, 2009

Forever Open, Clear, and Free

One week from today, I'll begin the Lake Trek. This first segment stretches 70 miles from Chicago, Illinois to New Buffalo, Michigan. This is the most diverse segment of the trek, traversing three states with portions ranging from the extremes of a major metropolitan city (Chicago), to major tracts of industry (including the defunct U.S. Steel's South Works facility and the recently expanded Amoco refinery installations), to the miles of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Chicago is my favorite big city. Part of the reason is that it is on Lake Michigan, but it is even more appealing because the city has preserved its relationship with the lake. Twenty-four miles of Chicago's thirty miles of shoreline has been preserved for parks, beaches, museums, and other public spaces. In addition to this, Chicago has recently reclaimed even more land for public use. The grand, art-filled Millennium Park (pictured above) is largely land that used to be a train yard. And this park transitions into Grant Park which stretches to the lake.

Lois Wille wrote a fantastic book about the history of Chicago called Forever Open, Clear, and Free. She chronicles the struggle to preserve the lake front for the people of the city. The fourth section in Blair Kamin's book, Why Architecture Matters, contains his essays on the lake front. He critiques the current situation and calls for a more cohesive plan (and more money) to unify, improve, and protect Chicago's relationship with the lake.

Industry has been part of the lake for a long time. The Amoco facility has been there for over 100 years. The steel plants even longer. We may not like these stretches of industry, but as long as we drive cars made of steel and fuel them with gasoline, we will need them. It is important that the relationship between industry and the lake is is symbiotic and not detrimental to the lake. Tens of millions of people get their drinking water from Lake Michigan, many more enjoy the shoreline or waters every year.

It will be strange to step out of the industry-scape onto the dunes of the over twenty miles of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. This stretch of park was set aside in 1966 and is an area of great biodiversity. Two years ago, I climbed Mount Baldy (over 100 feet high) with my brother, Phil. It may not sound like it's that high, but it's incredibly steep and for every five steps up, you slide back four. When we got to the top, I looked at Phil. He was a very strange shade of intense red and he was gasping. He looked at me and said, "Did you bring me here to DIE?" We laugh about it now. Well, actually, I laughed about it then!

I will try to post to the blog whenever possible along the trek and I'll be taking many notes for my book, A 1,000 Mile Walk on the Beach. Thanks for following this blog, and don't forget to click on the hat in the side bar to sign up for more updates. I'll also give away a hat or t-shirt at the end of each segment to someone who has signed up.

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