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The FCEC will welcome the public Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The FCEC will welcome the public Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Photo: Chicago Park District

New park facility to serve as a multi-functional environmental center in Invest South/West corridor 

CHICAGO – Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot joined the Chicago Park District’s Interim General Superintendent & CEO Rosa Escareño and local leaders to cut the ribbon on the much-anticipated Ford Calumet Environmental Center (FCEC) at Big Marsh Park in Chicago’s South Deering community. This facility serves as an anchor for the expanding Southeast Side park system and a space to celebrate the rich environmental, cultural, and industrial history of this area. The hub will connect the public to the region’s natural areas and park amenities, including the world-class bike park located at Big Marsh Park.

"We're in a critical moment in time to protect and enhance our environment," said Mayor Lightfoot. "I'm thrilled to open the Ford Calumet Environmental Center and further our commitment to creating eco-conscious spaces for residents to gather and appreciate the natural beauty of Chicago. Additionally, I'm pleased that this center will serve our INVEST South/West corridor, providing much-needed park capacity and learning opportunities for our Southeast Side communities."

The $7.8 million region-focused environmental stewardship and education center at Big Marsh Park features 9,300 square feet of indoor space that consists of an office, lobby, and community room, a concession space with bike maintenance, as well as public restrooms. 

Big Marsh Park is connected to the Roseland/Pullman targeted INVEST South/West community and received $1.5 million in Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to support the next phase of park development. To date, over $300 million in public sector investment has been deployed across 10 INVEST South/West neighborhoods. TIF for park development will include a multi-use, accessible trail around the perimeter of the park with boardwalks over wetland/marsh, pavilions and overlooks, camping platforms, entry plaza, and nature signage. 

An educational exhibit depicting the history and ecology of the Southeast Side natural areas as well as a large multi-purpose classroom will provide school and community groups a valuable space to explore and learn. The facility will host on-site educational, eco-recreational, and stewardship-related programming, and utilize the surrounding natural area to facilitate guided nature walks, classroom instruction, science-based curriculum, and other environmental programming. 

Innovation is at the core of this Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver development that supports Chicago’s first-ever controlled wastewater wetland, a septic system that is autonomous of the City’s sewer and utilizes natural plant material to filter and clean water. The building designed by the local architectural firm Valerio Dewalt Train in 2016 features a mass timber structure and a bird-safe exterior design. 

“The Ford Calumet Environmental Center is years in the making and a shining example of perseverance and the future of sustainable design,” said Chicago Park District Interim General Superintendent & CEO Rosa Escareño. “The multi-functional environmental center will serve local communities, draw in regional visitors and celebrate the region’s environmental, cultural and recreational assets.” 

The need for a visitor center focused on nature and environmental matters in the Calumet Region was first conceived in response to a study by the Chicago Department of the Environment in 1997. 

In 2014, the Chicago Park District conducted a feasibility study for the FCEC with support from the Chicago Community Trust and engaged partners and community stakeholders in planning for the development. The study reaffirmed the need for a center on the Southeast Side and recommended the FCEC be located at Big Marsh Park, a 280-acre property in the Calumet area. Prior to the completion of the study, the Center was identified as one of the 14 priority initiatives for the Millennium Reserve Steering Committee, which imagined the open space reserve system within the Calumet Region as a connector of green spaces throughout northeast Illinois. 

The Chicago Environmental Fund (CEF) dedicated $3.7 million towards the construction of the Center and an additional $500,000 to support environmental programming. Ford Motor Company originally provided these funds to CEF. 

“Ford has been a member of the Chicago community for nearly 100 years and this new center is yet another example of our continued commitment to the city,” said Mary Culler, president of the Ford Motor Company Fund, the automaker’s philanthropic arm.  “As a longstanding economic and community partner, we are proud to celebrate the opening of the Ford Calumet Environmental Center that will benefit South Side residents and communities for many years to come.”

Upon opening, the FCEC will welcome the public Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eco-recreational programming will be available for all ages and will include guided hikes, camping, birding, biking, and hands-on volunteer opportunities. 

“South Siders will now have a world-class educational and recreational facility to connect with nature, engage in ecological restoration, learn the historic connection between culture and commerce across the Calumet Region while enjoying some of the best biking- all without having to leave Chicago,” said Alderwoman Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th Ward).

Featuring some of Chicago Park District’s largest natural areas, the Calumet Region is also home to some of its most impressive displays of biodiversity. Big Marsh Park, which opened in 2016, is now a safe, open, and inviting eco-recreational destination that enhances the overall natural habitat of the park property including sensitivity to flora, fauna, and wetlands.

A State Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development (OSLAD) grant was also awarded for the next phase of improvements, which are currently under construction and expected to be completed in Summer 2022.