From the Cherry Avenue Bridge, the rehabilitated span for trains and pedestrians at the northern tip of Goose Island, the North Branch Canal of the Chicago River looks like a silty, murky mess. The riverbanks are scarred with concrete and wooden and metal retaining walls. Unruly trees pay the barriers no mind, stretching defiantly into the water, their sagging branches capturing a flotilla of plastic bags and beer cans.
But look southward from this point only a few steps from the rush of North Avenue, toward the Lincoln Park Whole Foods store, and the river is alive with floating tufts of greenery. The gardens are the beginning of a vision to turn the old industrial channel on Goose Island’s eastern edge into a “wild mile,” an eco-park of floating plants, wetlands, kayak piers and public walkways.
Soon these water gardens, the work of Urban Rivers, will have companions. By the beginning of July, a new set of native plant gardens will float in the canal, courtesy of a partnership between the environmental nonprofit and Shedd Aquarium.
Shedd’s river “island” will add 260 square feet of native plants such as swamp rose mallow, marsh marigold, Dudley’s rush and queen-of-the-prairie to the 1,500 square feet installed a year ago by Urban Rivers.