In the early 1900’s, the peninsula of land that the Museum occupies was engineered by landfilling what was once a part of Lake Michigan with coal ash, clay, dirt and household waste. In 1998, when Lake Shore Drive was rerouted west of the Museum, acres of the museum campus were landscaped with impervious paved walkways, turf grass and a mix of native and non-native trees, annuals and perennials. The Museum’s own ornithologists, entomologists, zoologists and botanists conducted a survey that concluded that this combination of low plant diversity, including non-native species, compacted soil and heavily paved areas does not constitute a healthy ecosystem. Efforts are already underway to reshape the landscape, and extend the message of diversity and conservation outside the Museum walls.
Benefits of Native Landscaping
Enhances the Museum visitors experience by transforming the campus into a living exhibit where Museum staff can engage the public in discussions on conservation, ecology and climate change. It also extends self-directed learning time, as the grounds are not subject to Museum hours of operation.
Lessens the Museum’s impact on the environment. As native prairie grasses are naturally drought tolerant, they require less water and fertilizers to thrive. This reduces water usage by the Museum and Park District and prevents landscaping chemicals from leaching into storm water runoff that runs into Burnham Harbor. Additionally, deep-running root systems of native plants help aerate the soil, which can better retain rainwater again reducing the need for additional watering. To learn more about the relationship between soil and roots, visit Underground Adventure on the ground floor of the Museum.
Provides refuge to migratory birds and animals. By establishing land in a link of corridors, these fauna can find a safe place to rest and forage on their journey. For more reading on preserving landscapes, check out E.O. Wilson’s Half Earth Project.
For an educational institution like the Field Museum, extending museum space to the outdoors is a rare opportunity to further enhance the Museum visitor’s experience. Plans are underway to install native gardens in 2016 that will provide visitors with a look at the native flora and fauna of the Chicago region. The Edible Treasures Garden, on the Museum's West Terrace, already provides Museum Campus visitors an example of how healthy and organic food can be grown anywhere, allowing them to have greater food security and a healthier lifestyle. Both of these gardens increase the visitor’s enjoyment of the Museum Campus for its beauty and place in Chicago’s landscape as well as connecting the Museum to the surrounding communities.