Park 564 “Big Marsh” is a 278 acre property on the southeast side of Chicago in the area commonly known as the Calumet Area Reserve. Once an active industrial property, the site was acquired by the Park District in 2011 and opened as a new public park in 2016. The vision of Big Marsh is to provide a new type of recreation in Chicago that marries habitat restoration with public use. Roughly 45 acres are developed for eco-recreation opportunities including hiking, adventure courses, and off-road biking. The eco-recreation elements are located primarily on existing slag fields where plants have a hard time growing and good habitat creation is unlikely. Other acreage is reserved for more passive recreation including bird-watching and nature walking. All acreage is being developed to protect or further enhance the overall natural habitat of the park property including sensitivity to flora, fauna, and wetlands. Through much planning, investment, and local stakeholder input, Big Marsh is now a safe, open, and inviting park space for Chicago and the neighboring communities.
To get an idea of the location of the facilities within the park, view the design concept map.
Ford Calumet Environmental Center
In September 2013, the Millennium Reserve Steering Committee identified the Ford Calumet Environmental Center (FCEC) as one of the 14 priority initiatives for the Millennium Reserve. In 2014, the Chicago Park District received a $35,000 grant from the Chicago Community Trust to conduct a Feasibility Study for the FCEC in partnership with an 18-member working group. The Feasibility Study outlined the need, purpose, and program of a new center and recommended the FCEC be located at Big Marsh. In 2016, The Chicago Environmental Fund (CEF) dedicated $5.5M for the construction and programming of a new environmental center at Big Marsh. Funds were originally provided to CEF by Ford Motor Company. The center will start design in late 2016 with an expected construction completion and opening in 2018. The Mission of the Ford Calumet Environmental Center is: “To create a gateway and center point that knits together the Calumet region to serve local communities, draw in regional visitors and celebrate the region’s environmental, cultural and recreational assets.”
Once the site of a waste and slag dumping ground from surrounding industrial operations since the late 1800s, the City of Chicago and the Chicago Park District teamed up in early 2000s to restore this area to a healthy habitat and eco-recreation park. The Chicago Park District acquired the site in 2011 and began the park planning, environmental assessment, and community input process. A Framework Plan for the park was completed in 2014. Design for the bike park feature in the southwest section of the park began in 2014 and the bike park opened in 2016. The northwest section of the park also opened to the public in 2016 with a new walking trail and parking lot. Big Marsh will be the site for the future Ford Calumet Environmental Center, expected to open in 2018.