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Located in the South Chicago neighborhood, Steelworkers Park weaves its rich industrial history into present day recreation. Once the site of a thriving steel mill along Lake Michigan’s shoreline, the park is now one of the city’s unique natural areas, perfect for birding, stargazing, and other outdoor fun.
Feeling adventurous? Try your hand at rock climbing up a portion of the repurposed historic ore wall left behind by the steel industry. Or keep your feet on the ground with a relaxing walk or bike ride along meandering nature paths lined with native grasses and plants.
Built on the historic ore walls of a former steel mill, the 30-foot outdoor climbing wall offers a unique opportunity for climbing and bouldering with spectacular 360-degree views of the city and shoreline. The wall is suitable for all experience levels, with climbing grades ranging from 5.2 to 5.7, and is free to use with your own equipment.* The Chicago Park District also offers a variety of climbing programs for those interested in learning the ropes.
*Always use best practices when climbing. Climbing is at your own risk.
Join us during the summer months for facilitated community climbing events. Ages 8 and up (climbers under the age of 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian). These climbs are FREE and includes equipment (harness, helmet, climbing shoes) and the use of the climbing systems. Registration is required. Walk-ups are welcome but climbing opportunities are limited to availability.
2022 Community Climb dates: 7/16, 8/27, 9/17, and 10/1. Registration link coming soon.
Become a Community Climb Sponsor
Sponsor a community climb this summer! This is the perfect outreach opportunity for local businesses or organizations to host a fun and exciting event that supports local families. Sponsors are invited to table during the climbing event. For more information on how to become a community climb sponsor, contact Joel Zavala at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
group rentals (july – october)
Host an adrenaline-filled team building experience! Test your abilities while enjoying our city’s natural and urban beauty. Climbing equipment is included, and classes are led by an experienced climber. Price includes up to 2 hours. Max 15 climbers.
Your scout troop will learn about the area’s rich cultural and natural history while enjoying a day of climbing and adventure. Equipment is included, and classes are led by an experienced climber.
Kids will enjoy a day climbing, picnicking, and exploring the park during this high-adventure birthday party. Equipment is included, and classes are led by an experienced climber. Price includes up to 2 hours. Max 15 climbers.
The area is primarily dunes and wetlands, with native vegetation and wildlife.
South Chicago and the entire Southeast side booms as immigrants arrive to live and work in the thriving steel industry, creating a melting pot of cultures that still exist today. However, the economic boom results in the filling of the wetlands with slag, a byproduct of the steelmaking industry.
The former US Steel site is demolished. The city designates a portion of the site as parkland and the Chicago Park District begins ongoing restoration efforts by capping contaminated soil and revegetating with native plants.
The park has once again become home to a variety of native plants and wildlife, including migrating birds, tree frogs, and pollinator species.
about marian r. byrnes
Named for environmental activist Marian R. Byrnes, this 135-acre park is one of Chicago’s largest natural areas. Located in the Southeast Side’s Jeffery Manor neighborhood (where it’s known as “the prairie”), the site encompasses a variety of ecosystems, making it a great place to observe species like frogs, snakes, birds, and deer. After undergoing immense ecological restoration, the park now provides community members with a safe space to relax and connect with nature. Its new asphalt multipurpose trail runs the length of the park, giving visitors access to multiple habitats and unique views.
an activist’s legacy
The preservation of this area (previously known as Van Vlissingen Prairie) as an open space is largely thanks to the work of the late Marian Byrnes. A teacher turned community organizer, Marian’s preservation work began in 1979 with a diverse neighborhood coalition to block construction of a CTA bus garage that would demolish half the prairie. The campaign was successful, and Marian became well-known for her environmental advocacy within the Southeast Side community for more than 25 years. We have her tireless efforts to thank for ensuring that we’re able to enjoy this land today.
Like many areas on the Southeast Side, this land’s industrial history has influenced its current environment. At the height of the steel industry, a byproduct known as slag was dumped in these undeveloped areas, particularly along railroad tracks. The wetland surrounding Marian R. Byrnes Park rests on top of slag, supporting a unique ecological community of plants and marsh birds like ducks, sora, and herons.
Marshes provide a perfect habitat for amphibians like frogs, toads, and salamanders. These creatures thrive in moist, cool environments with ample space to hide and lay their eggs, and plenty of insects to feed on. There are 13 different species of frogs and toads in the Chicagoland area. Check out the Calling Frog Survey for a complete list. Think you can find them all? With its seasonal pools shaded by cottonwood trees, Marian R. Byrnes Park is a great place to start!
Do you have an interest in local fauna and flora, or enjoy working with school-aged kids and families? If so, we want to hear from you! As one of Chicago’s newest recreation sites, Marian R. Byrnes Park is recruiting community members to volunteer with park staff and our partners. If interested, fill out the volunteer interest form and our park staff will reach out.
We look forward to hearing from you!
for the kids
Ready for an exciting day of exploring some local ecosystems? Check out an activity kit or plant and bird guide from the Ford Calumet Environmental Center at Big Marsh Park. Marian R. Byrnes Park is an excellent place to discover plants and animals native to our region. Keep your eyes fixed upward, and you might spot a red-tailed hawk or a great horned owl nesting in the trees above!
Dawn to Dusk
Paid parking is available in the south entrance main lot with access to the bike park and Ford Calumet Environmental Center. Limited, unpaid parking is available off of S. Stony Island Avenue on the north end of the park with access to hiking trails and views across the marsh to the bike park.
about big marsh
This 300 acre natural area became a park in 2016 and is being remediated and restored to a native habitat, which is quickly becoming a premier eco-recreation site. Big Marsh features nature trails and a bike park that attracts adventure seekers of all sorts. The marsh is also home to a wide variety of the Calumet Region’s native flora and fauna, and provides refuge to a variety of migratory and resident birds. Visitors can learn more about the Southeast Side’s rich cultural and natural history by paying a visit to the new Ford Calumet Environmental Center.
Spanning nearly 300 acres, Big Marsh Park is the Southeast Side’s hub for eco recreational activities, complete with a stunning backdrop of natural and urban views. Multi-use and nature trails are perfect for hiking and exploring the marsh in search of abundant wildlife and native plants. Cyclists can enjoy a leisurely ride through the park, or tackle the bike park’s single track, pump track and dirt jump lines. For a complete list of all the park has to offer, stop by the Ford Calumet Environmental Center to learn more about our local parks and how to explore these great outdoor spaces.
The Big Marsh Bike Park offers a heart pounding adventure that attracts bike enthusiasts of all ages and skill levels from across the Midwest and the country. The bike park features 3 jump lines, single-track courses and a state-of-the-art asphalt pump track. Visitors can practice mountain biking or cyclo-cross in a natural setting without ever having to leave the city! The park also features a bike outfitter shop with cycle-focused amenities and support. For more information on events and trail conditions, please visit the Friends of Big Marsh website.
The Bike Park can be accessed through the park’s south entrance at 11559 S. Stony Island Ave.
ford calumet environmental center
Visit the Ford Calumet Environmental Center (FCEC) at Big Marsh Park to learn about the Southeast Side’s rich cultural and natural history. The center serves as a hub for environmental programming and eco-rec activities on the Southeast Side of Chicago and the Calumet Region.
The center also serves as the home of the Chicago Park District’s team of Natural Area Resource Technicians; the woman and men who remediate, restore and reclaim these sites for our local communities and future generations.
birding at big marsh
The Calumet Region is a major destination for birds migrating to and from winter and summer feeding and nesting sites. The abundance of birds, both passing through and those living here year-round, also makes the site a top destination for birders! The nature trails at Big Marsh offer ample cover for experienced and novice birders hoping to spy a secretive marsh bird or a migrating song bird or raptor. Stop by the Ford Calumet Environmental Center to hear what’s been seen hanging around or to check out a pair of binoculars and a field guide.
For more information on recently seen birds at Big Marsh visit the ebird website.
Visiting Big Marsh with your family? We’ve got you covered! Stop by the FCEC and check out an activity kit or a plant, bird or pollinator identification guide. No visit to Big Marsh would be complete without a pair of binoculars (or bug box) also available to borrow from the Center.
For families seeking more active recreation, the outfitter space at Big Marsh has bikes of all sizes for rent or loan. Our tot track is perfect for young riders interested in building their pump track riding skills. Check the Friends of Big Marsh website for more information.
indian ridge marsh
Dawn to Dusk
Indian Ridge Marsh is divided into two sections by 122nd Street. There are free, public parking lots for both the north and south sections of the marsh:
North Lot: a small gravel lot for the main trail head with access to informational signage, nature trails, picnic tables and scenic overlooks of the marsh.
South Lot: a small gravel lot for the southern end of the site with access to an elevated boardwalk and nature trail. To get there from Torrence Ave., turn east onto 122nd street and look for the ComEd gated lot.
about indian ridge marsh
Once used for the disposal of slag, a waste product of the steel making process, Indian Ridge Marsh is taking on a new life. This natural area – located in the Southeast Side’s South Deering neighborhood – covers 145 acres between Lake Calumet to the west and the Calumet River to the south. Large portions of the marsh were once filled with dredge material from disposal activities of the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2015. Since then, the site is being restored to its historic wetland habitat thanks to the Chicago Park District and its partners. On the north end of the marsh, mulched trails cut through wet prairie, an important habitat once common throughout the Calumet region. Native flowers and grasses offer food and habitat to a myriad of birds and insects. Visitors can walk the trails and connect with nature or relax and take in picturesque marsh and wildlife views. In the center of IRM is a nature play space and picnic tables – it’s a great place to relax, play and enjoy the sights and sounds of the marsh and savanna.
Native plants are a good food source and attract insects like butterflies, moths, and bees. They also rely on these insects as well as ants, and even birds and bats to move their pollen from one plant to another in order to produce seeds. At Indian Ridge Marsh, the Park District and its partners have worked hard to build healthy pollinator habitats by planting native plant species. Visit during the summer months to watch pollinators at work, or volunteer for a family planting or seed collecting event.
become a community scientist
Community science is the practice of public participation in research to increase scientific knowledge. Curious about the environment? Now is your chance to play an important role by collecting and sharing data. When visiting Big Marsh, Hegewisch Marsh, or Indian Ridge Marsh, be on the lookout for signs that monitor water levels. Follow the instructions to record water level conditions, and help scientists track hydrology data in the area over time. Your contribution helps to further the research and future decision making of local communities and land managers to improve the water quality of the Calumet Region.
the mystery of thismia
The last seen specimen of the Thismia americana plant was discovered at Indian Ridge Marsh in 1916. Since then, botanists and plant enthusiasts have explored the marsh in hopes of rediscovering the Thisima. This unique plant, with cousins only found in tropical areas like New Zealand, has a tiny, translucent, white and blue striped flower that just reaches above the soil, making it very difficult to spot. While the Thismia has yet to be rediscovered at Indian Ridge Marsh, many other interesting species have been found and documented.
Dawn to Dusk
Visitors should parallel park along the west shoulder of the asphalt access road directly off of S. Torrence Avenue. Parking is not allowed on the gravel area in front of the park gates. This area is reserved for CPD natural area work crews.
about hegewisch marsh
Hegewisch Marsh is located on the western side of the Hegewisch neighborhood and bordered by the Calumet River with interesting views of the Thomas J. O’Brien Lock and Dam. The site provides a safe place for the surrounding community to enjoy passive eco recreation activities. Escape the bustle of city life to explore this park’s vibrant landscape, comprised of native wetland, prairie, savanna, and woodland ecosystems. Venture out on its mulched hiking trails with scenic marsh views, and keep your eyes peeled for interesting critters native to our region, including deer, muskrats, and wetland birds.
for the birds!
Curious about birding? You’re in the right place! With a diversity of habitats, Hegewisch Marsh is an ideal place to spot both resident and migratory species, making it a birding “hot spot” in the Calumet Region. To get started, stop by the Ford Calumet Environmental Center at Big Marsh Park to pick up a pair of binoculars and field guide.
scenic nature trails
It’s one of the simplest and most accessible forms of outdoor recreation — walking! Hegewisch Marsh’s trails are a great place to bring the family to reconnect with nature. With every changing season its wetland, prairie, savanna, and woodland habitats undergo beautiful transformations, each with a unique and vibrant color palette: from the deep reds and oranges of fall leaves, to the vibrant blues and yellows of summer wildflowers. Even the soundscape changes, as the quiet stillness of winter transitions into a springtime crescendo of calling frogs and migratory birds.
the marsh engineers
Hegewisch is home to one of the marsh ecosystem’s most important animals: the muskrat. Considered the “engineers” of the marsh, these beaver-like animals build low domed shaped houses from mud and marsh vegetation. By altering the hydrology in the landscape, they in turn create nesting sites for geese, ducks, and other marsh wildlife. Spot these special critters using their long tails to propel themselves through water, or look for their tell-tale lodges at any of the Chicago Park District’s Southeast Side natural areas.
scouts at hegewisch
Hegewisch Marsh offers plenty of opportunities for scout groups looking to spend some time outdoors or complete a badge requirement. Bring your group on a hike through the marsh’s nature trails, or hone your outdoor skills.
Visit our Scouts page for more information the experiences our parks have to offer.
Dawn to Dusk
No official parking lot, but informal parking is available along the shoulder at the access gate, or a short hike away at Rainbow Beach.
Park 566, also known as “USX,” is a former steel mill that operated for more than 100 years as part of US Steel’s South Works facility. Having been demolished in the late 1900s, the 68.2 acre space is now undergoing a major restoration process that includes controlled burns, mowing, and installing native plants suitable for prairie and savanna habitats. The resulting natural area will provide wildlife habitat and a place for people to explore and enjoy nature along Chicago’s southern lakefront.
nature knows no bounds
Many species (people included!) rely on spaces called greenways or green corridors to navigate through their natural habitat, so connectivity is one of the most important considerations in our park development projects. USX is part of Chicago’s system of lakefront parks that form a greenway of public open space visited annually by millions. This trail system will eventually connect Rainbow Beach Park to the north through Steelworkers Park to the south.
special guests: snowy owls
During winter’s “frozen tundra” months, avid birders come to USX hoping to spot a visitor from the north: the Snowy Owl. While elusive, they will migrate south to our area in greater numbers during winters when food is scarce. Snowy Owls are “diurnal,” meaning they may hunt for small mammals (mostly voles) and birds during daylight hours.
The Chicago Park District conducts prescribed (also called controlled) burns at USX and other natural sites on the Southeast Side to restore and remediate habitat. Conducted in the early spring and late fall, these burns help to reduce unwanted invasive plants, promote native plant growth, and enrich the soil. The result? Lush vegetation, radiant flowers, and plentiful seed production in the following season.
get involved: nature photography
You don’t need to be a professional photographer to capture the beauty of nature around you. So grab your smartphone or digital camera and start exploring the outdoors – you never know what you might find! Dan Lory, pictured here—ran into this grey tree frog while taking photos at USX. Dan is responsible for many of the beautiful bird and wildlife images featured on this page!