Off-trail Foot Traffic Causes Slope Degradation: What Can We Do?

The Friends of Grant Park have identified the issue of off-trail foot traffic causing erosion as one of our top priorities to tackle in Grant Park.  We are in the process of installing new interpretive signs at the entrances to the Seven Bridges trail; they remind visitors to stay on the steps and established paths to prevent damage to the fragile sloped ecosystem in our ravines.  Some visitors choose to go “off trail”, hiking or biking, but doing so damages grasses, wildflowers and tree roots. Ultimately, slopes denuded of vegetation become rutted and eroded, as exposed soils wash down to the lower trails, then the creek, and finally Lake Michigan during rain events.  This siltation of our waterways is clearly evident over at the Mill Pond, for instance.  We can help reduce this effect by staying on the trails provided, using the stairs to access the beach, and treating the vegetated slopes with respect while visiting.

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Frequently our fundraising events highlight erosion-prevention projects such as that of 2012 where we installed compost, trees, shrubs and understory seedlings to a scoured part of our ravine slope following the washout of the main bridge to the beach in 2010’s storms.   We have “armored” volunteer trails with cut branches acquired during Buckthorn WeedOut events in the last two years, accomplishing a two-in-one task.  Matching grant moneys have made both of these projects feasible with the purchase of tools and materials needed to stabilize slopes.  As well, sometimes we need to hire professionals to undertake projects. 

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Friends of Grant Park encouraged the installation of fencing as a means of discouraging off-trail use.  It may be that this is a reasonable tactic in slopes now under siege.  And, we know that a set of stairs is necessary in proximity to one of the newer bridges.  We will take this into consideration with Parks planning.  Larger projects demand larger amounts of capital, a fact currently impossible with County budget deficits.  We encourage you to consider inquiring about long term support of our park, as well as more affordable, smaller donations. In this age of dwindling county budgets, we may lose the beauty of the ravine if we do not practice good stewardship now.

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Photos courtesy of Rebecca Wheeler

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