Grant Park Restoration

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A stroll through Grant Park these days might leave you wondering why the already muddy mess is being watered even more.

It’s been two weeks since the summer music festival of Lollapalooza left Grant Park devastated. Lawns were torn up by the heavy traffic and pouring rains made the situation even worse.

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“What you see out here is sort of a convergence or a perfect storm of several things that happened,” said Bob O’Neil, President of the Grant Park Conservancy. “Number one, it was a sell-out crowd. It was almost 300,000 people over three days, and then it also rained during the festival, two days. So, that’s a big issue.”

O’Neil says that while the park is difficult to look at right now, Chicagoans should take heart. The restoration is underway.

“When you’ve got lots of people, lots of foot falls and a lot of mud, you’re going to get a mess, and so it’s pretty bad this year,” said Adam Schwerner, the Chicago Park District’s Director of  Natural Resources.

Schwerner says this year's concert left more damage than ever before, but that the agreement leaves Lollapalooza responsible for all the cleanup and restoration.

“We also have an understanding with Parkways and Lollapalooza, that the expectation is that if the park looks good now before the event, it’s going to look good after the event,” Schwerner said. “Lolla’s been a great partner. They’ve expended the funds necessary, as they will do this year, to bring the park back to where it was before.”

Park District officials say the silver lining in this muddy mess is that once the restoration is complete, the park will look better than it ever did before.

According to the Chicago Park District, since 2005, Lollapalooza has brought in more than $8.2 million for use in Grant Park and other Chicago parks. That money, they say, has been used not only to restore damage, but to plant new trees and beautify the parks even further -- without having to use public funds.

“So, if you go through this park, you will see all sorts of small trees, a lot, and a majority of those trees and bushes and different areas that have been restored and gardens are paid for by Lollapalooza,” O’Neil said. “So, they do leave a green impact on the park.”

So, how long will the restoration take?

“It’s very dependent on, first of all , he amount of damage,” Schwerner said. “In this case, you can’t really get out and work on soil that is wet because you’re just going to muck it up even further. So, we’ve had to sort of wait to for the soil to dry out a little bit.”

At the corner of Columbus and Balbo, crews have been working to restore a section of the park where a massive tent caused severe damage. 

The crews are using forklifts to lay out the massive rolls of fresh sod. Each piece is about 3.5 feet by 75 feet.

“So, we’ve used big roll sod, which is very heavy, large rolls of sod that’s able to take its root hold very quickly in the ground, as opposed to  the little pieces that you might buy at Home Depot,” Schwerner said. 

This is much of what will be going on over the next few days and weeks; in addition to leveling, reseeding, aerating and repairing damage caused to trees by too much foot traffic.

With signs explaining the mess, and who’s responsible for footing the bill, passersby we encountered didn’t seem to mind the temporary eyesore all that much.

“Well, I think a public park should be for the public, and if the public is enjoying it and if they’re willing to restore it, I think that’s perfectly fine,” said Barbara Clark.

“The end result, it’s bad overall, but Lollapalooza is great for the city, absolutely fantastic. It brings tourists, millions of tourists, from all over the world,” said Shaine Feeney, who traveled to Chicago all the way from Ireland for the festival. “I’ll be back next year.”

Both the Park District and the Conservancy expect major improvements in the park in the next few days, and complete restoration within the next few weeks.

As for the muddy mess being watered? The chronically failing irrigation system is also being replaced, courtesy of the Lollapalooza restoration.

What do you think? Are the millions made from Lollapalooza each year worth the damage to Grant Park? Sound off in our comments section.

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