This Week in Nature: It’s Beginning to Look Like a Fest-Free Summer in Douglass Park

This article originally published March 17. It has been updated with new information regarding Riot Fest.

Of the three music festivals held in Douglass Park in 2022, organizers of two have announced new locations for 2023 and the third has yet to confirm a venue, making a fest-free 2023 a distinct possibility for neighbors.

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People who live near the park have persistently lobbied the Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners to block multi-day music festivals from Douglass Park, complaining that the events hijack the park for weeks at a time during the height of summer, denying residents access to green space.

This constant pressure from community members led the board to amend the Park District’s code last year, giving commissioners final approval over permits for events drawing more than 10,000 attendees.

In February, the Heatwave music festival announced its move to Northerly Island, and this week, organizers of Lyrical Lemonade Summer Smash revealed they’re decamping from Chicago altogether and will hold their 2023 fest at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview.

Riot Fest, held in Douglass Park since 2015, is the only question mark for 2023. The dates have been set at Sept. 15-17, and organizers have submitted a permit application with the Park District.

"They must follow the permit process, which includes a community engagement plan and seeking provisional approval from the Board. No permit has been issued at this time," Park District spokesperson Michele Lemons told WTTW News.

The festival did not respond to a request for comment from WTTW News.

To date, the only special events that have come before commissioners for permit approval have been running races such as the Shamrock Shuffle, Chase Corporate Challenge and Chicago Marathon.

The new approval process isn’t applicable to events such as Lollapalooza, which have longstanding contracts with the city. Likewise, the controversial deal to bring a NASCAR street race to Chicago, expected to close Grant Park for several weeks, was made without the Park District board’s input.

It will be up to the next mayor to decide how to respond to Chicagoans’ growing frustration with these mega-events. 

Here’s what else caught our attention this week.


In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, let’s hear it for the bowfin, a native fish species that takes the “wearin’ o’ the green” seriously.

The bowfin — aka, mudfish; aka, dogfish; aka, grinnel; aka, swamp-muskie — is an odd-looking fish any day of the year, with a spot that looks like an eyeball on its tailfin and tubular nostrils that resemble tusks.

But the male’s appearance becomes even quirkier during spring spawning season, when its mouth, throat, belly and ventral fins turn a vibrant turquoise green color.

Conservation Organization

After a year-long reevaluation process, the National Audubon Society has decided to retain the Audubon name, despite John James Audubon’s history as an enslaver. The board “decided that the organization transcends one person’s name,” the organization’s CEO Elizabeth Gray said in an open letter.

“‘Audubon’ has come to symbolize our mission and significant achievements that this organization has made in its long history,” Gray added.

The Chicago Audubon Society, which recently announced it will shed the Audubon name, said it was disappointed with National Audubon’s announcement and plans to continue its search for a new identity.

“We will find a name that expresses our mission and looks to the future, not the past. Thanks to the many many people who support us in this decision. We know that number will only grow,” Chicago Audubon said in a statement.


Spring migration has started, bringing with it excitement and surprises.

In Will County, American white pelicans have been spotted in recent days making pit stops at places like Rock Run Rookery, as they rest and refuel on their way to breeding grounds in North Dakota and Canada. Pelicans are one of the largest birds in North America.

Meanwhile, the appearance of a Ross’s gull along Chicago’s lakefront has set birders atwitter across the region. The gull makes its home in the Arctic Circle and rarely dips into the U.S., prompting birders from as far away as Minnesota to trek to Chicago in the hopes of catching a glimpse. Plenty have gone home disappointed, according to this report in the Chicago Tribune.

Marine Life

Seaweed is having a moment. In last week’s column, we reported on the vast belt of sargassum (a brown seaweed) stretching from Africa to the Gulf of Mexico, threatening beaches, tourism, fisheries and more. “No one is talking about it outside the Caribbean,” sources told The Guardian. Well, now that a massive sargassum “raft” is bearing down on the Florida Keys, the New York Times and CNN have raised the alarm. 

Sargassum may be blooming out of control in the Atlantic Ocean, as just one of many consequences of climate change, but in the Pacific, folks are exploring ways to grow more of a seaweed called asparagopsis, which is found off the coast of Australia. And in this case, the seaweed would be used to stem climate change.

Studies have show that asparagopsis, when fed to cows as a supplement, is effective in slashing the methane emitted from cattle burps.

Forest Preserves

Where’s Rocky?

That’s what animal rights activists are wondering after Rocky the coyote disappeared from public view at River Trail Nature Center, where he’s been living in an enclosure since 2018 as part of the Cook County Forest Preserve District’s animal ambassador program.

After Rocky’s location became a hot topic during the public comment portion of this week’s meeting of the preserves’ board of commissioners, it was revealed that the coyote had been temporarily moved in advance of the start of construction on a larger habitat enclosure.

Arnold Randall, the district’s general superintendent, said Rocky is in a familiar place, being cared for by his usual handlers.

Activists pointed to the irony of the explanation.

“One of the Forest Preserves’ main excuses why they won’t release Rocky to a sanctuary is concerns that moving him would somehow be detrimental to him, yet now they have moved him, but officials won’t disclose his whereabouts,” said Jodie Wiederkehr, executive director of the Chicago Alliance for Animals.

Tweet of the Week

For conservationists and environmentalists, the loss of ancient Bell Bowl Prairie, bulldozed to make room for a road, still stings.

Contact Patty Wetli: @pattywetli | (773) 509-5623 |  [email protected]

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