Marian R. Byrnes Park

2200 E. 103rd St.
Chicago, IL 60617

Supervisor: Stephen Bell
Phone Numbers: Main 312-590-5993
Is Accessible
Note: A paved path stretches the length of the park, accessible from the southeast or northeast corners


Hours Notes

Natural areas are open from dawn to dusk daily.


At over 140 acres, Marian R. Byrnes Park contains one of the largest wild spaces in Chicago. The site, situated in the Jeffery Manor neighborhood, contains marsh, wet prairie, prairie, savanna, and woodland habitats. It is a great place to observe wildlife including frogs, snakes, birds, and deer. This park was previously known as Park No. 562 and Van Vlissingen Prairie.
After undergoing extensive ecological restoration, the park now provides community members with a safe space to relax and connect with nature. A paved multipurpose trail runs the length of the park, giving visitors access to multiple habitats and unique views.
At one time the heart of Chicago and global industry, the Calumet region is a surprising host to many uncommon species of wildlife; bald eagles, black-crowned night herons and Blanding’s turtles are all endangered or protected animals which call the area home for some or all of the year. Additionally, forty percent of Illinois endangered plants can be found in parks, preserves and open land within Calumet. The area holds great potential to become a regionally and nationally recognized place for wildlife habitat restoration and wildlife conservation. Its grand open spaces and historic wetlands are also promising for the development of land and water trails unparalleled in an urban setting.  These elements together form the basis for creating the Calumet Open Space Reserve, a plan bringing together state and local agencies to protect and enhance 3,900 acres of important wetland, forest and prairie habitat. An emphasis of the Reserve is connectivity – both in the form of trails for human use, and greenway corridors allowing wildlife to safely cross wider swaths of land without the risks posed by roadways and industrial plants. The Chicago Park District owns and manages over 800 of these acres while the remaining land is split between the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) and the Forest Preserve District of Cook County.
Calumet features not only the Chicago Park District’s largest landholdings, but some of its most impressive displays of biodiversity. Habitat variety spans marshes, prairies and woodlands that are host to over 200 species of birds, 20 species of fish, and rare mammals, amphibians and reptiles. Currently the Park District is working alongside sustainable development and conservation experts in addition to community members and other landholders in the region. The Calumet vision is to increase local recreation opportunities while connecting the region to the larger natural landscape to the north, south and west. Community economic development projects are also a priority of the Park District. Perpetuating the Calumet region’s legacy as a hub of production in line with societal needs through contributing to the renewable energy sector and other sustainable businesses is a focus for the present and years to come.    


In 2011, the City transferred this large site to the Chicago Park District for a park. In 2018, Park Number 562 was officially named in honor of Marian Byrnes. The preservation of this park 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.

Where now exists industrial plants and retired landfills once laid a vast network of rivers and swales meandering between marshes, lakes and seasonal ponds. (The word “calumet” is believed to have come from a Potawatomi word for “low body of deep, still water”). Low ridges accommodated drier prairies, but most of the area was flat and grassy at the time of Joliet and Marquette’s expedition through the region in the late 1600s.

As predicted by prominent planners in the area such as Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett, Calumet in the post-Civil War era became a national epicenter for manufacturing – most notably of steel. The vast landscape surrounding the inland Lake Calumet (at that time almost twice its current size and no more than six feet deep at its lowest point) contained all of the elements necessary to become a tremendous hub of production: fresh water for cooling during the manufacturing process, plentiful cheap land, and numerous waterways to connect producers to growing markets. Starting as early as the 1860s, coal from southern Illinois was shipped in large quantities north to Chicago, soon met by iron ore shipped south down the great lakes from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The first mill in the region was John Brown’s Iron and Steel Mill at 119th Street, and it was followed by many to come.

The Illinois and Michigan Canal, completed in 1848, served as the first direct connection between the Great Lakes and international waters through the Gulf of Mexico, precipitating a huge boom in business and population. At its height, the steel industry employed over 200,000 people who moved from across the country and the world to work in the plants. (Even today, with steel production falling by 30 to 40 percent, the amount of steel produced in southeast Chicago and northwest Indiana greatly overshadows any other steel producing region in the nation). The steel that built the Chicago skyline also drove the construction of the railroad, further raising the area’s status as a shipping capital. In fact, as of a 2001 city report, Chicago was the United States’ largest center for intermodal freight shipping – over 9 million containers are shipped in and out of Calumet annually, twice the amount of any other metropolitan region in the country, and third only to Hong Kong and Singapore.

By the 1970s, the demand for steel began to drop as massive urban building and infrastructural projects were largely completed, and aluminum and plastic began to replace steel in popular products such as cans and auto interiors. By 1982, the steel industry in Chicago was only a skeleton of what it once was, and thousands of people lost their jobs. This industry crash affected workers in diverse sectors that either relied on the steel plants for business or served the employees of the steel plants and their families. Aside from mills and processing plants, stores, restaurants and country clubs all went out of business, leaving vacant lots, industrial grounds and many open spaces that remain today.

While its industrial roots are important in understanding the current state of the Calumet region, it is also important to recognize the area’s rich cultural and natural history.  Throughout the 19th century, Calumet remained so sparsely populated that it maintained a reputation for excellent hunting, fishing and recreation. Many local residents practiced subsistence hunting, while businessmen took a one-hour train ride from downtown Chicago to hunt at private hunting reserves. While several of these reserves, such as Woodman’s Tavern and Douglas’s Duck Pond have since been taken over by industry (the Acme Coke plant in South Deering), others like the Southeast Sportsmen’s Club in Hegewisch remain today. Chicagoans from the North Side often vacationed in Calumet, spending the summer at the many hotels or summer homes established around Lake Calumet, which hosted sailing and crew regattas in the summer as well as skating and ice sailing on the lake in the winter.

Local and statewide efforts to identify and protect Calumet’s natural resources have been in motion since the later part of the 20th century. Beginning in the 1970s, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) determined a plot of 3,000 acres to be a natural area of statewide significance. In 1998 the City of Chicago, Chicago Park District and the Forest Preserve District of Cook County adopted City Space: An Open Space Plan for Chicago. As a result of this project, Lake Calumet was identified as the most important wetland and natural area within the city and in urgent need of protection.

The Calumet area has attracted federal interest as well, starting with $200,000 given to several local partners by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1999 to develop a sustainable land use plan for nature and industry. In the acquisition and restoration of land, the Chicago Park District and its partners have acquired grants from federal and state agencies as well as private business fulfilling mitigation requirements.

Map & Facilities

Marian R. Byrnes Natural Area

2200 E. 103rd St.
Chicago, IL 60633
United States

Marian R. Byrnes Natural Area
Marian R. Byrnes Natural Area

2200 E. 103rd St.
Chicago, IL 60633
United States

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