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Calumet Quarter at Rainbow Beach Dunes

25 May

CQ students 2016-05-20

Students from University of Chicago’s Calumet Quarter visited Rainbow Beach Dunes to learn about stewardship, urban nature areas, and prickly pear cactus!

Here’s a blog post from student Saul Levin:

The Cacti at Rainbow Beach Dunes

Perhaps unsurprisingly, my strongest impressions and most pressing questions following our visit to Rainbow Beach Dunes are about the “sexiest”[1] part of the dunes: Opuntia humifusa, more commonly known as Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus.[2]

I was interested by the impressive abundance of the cacti at the site we visited, especially when I discovered that its abundance is not consistent across its range. The prickly pear cactus has no unusual legal status at the federal level, but it is listed as rare vulnerable, or endangered in three states.[3]  The cactus owes its abundance in part to its ability to reproduce in three different ways.[4]  O. humifusa can reproduce through pollination and seeding. Detached segments can also travel on passing animals or simply fall off and roll away, taking root nearby. A third option called “layering,” in which still attached segments input new roots into the soil, explains why it is so difficult to distinguish adjacent plants from one another.

Read the rest of Saul’s article here, and view the gallery from their May 20 trip here.



May 28: Community Stewardship Workday

23 May

rainbow wood betony


Come out to Rainbow Beach Dunes this Saturday May 28 for invasive species management!

More beautiful native plants are blooming, like Triglochin maritima [seaside arrow grass], Pedicularis canadensis [wood betony or lousewort; pictured above], Sisyrinchium angustifolium [blue eyed grass, in the iris family], and Lithospermum canescens [hoary pucoon]. (Find out about all these species and more at Illinois wildflowers.)

But the invasive Bromus tectorum [cheatgrass or downy brome] is also making itself known across the site and we need volunteers to help remove it! Join us this Saturday May 28 from10am-12pm.

Remember to prepare for the weather and terrain: it could be cool and wet, or sunny and warm! Sturdy shoes, long pants and water are recommended. Tools, equipment, and snacks will be provided. Please RSVP here, and contact co-stewards Alison Anastasio ( or Jen Raber ( with questions.


Directions and a map can be found here.

Rainbow Beach Park runs parallel to South Shore Drive from 75th-79th Streets. Find directions and a map here.
By foot, walk east from South Shore Dr. on 77th St.
By car, you can only access the park at the southern end.
From the north/west, follow Hwy 41 east as it splits from South Shore Drive at 79th St. Turn left into the park at Farragut.
From the south, follow Hwy 41 north and turn right on Farragut, just before the intersection of 79th/South Shore.
Once in the park, go past the stop sign and water filtration plant and turn right at the next opportunity, into the parking lot before the Field House. Go to the southeast end of this lot and park. Meet at the entrance to the Nature Area, which is located at the southern end of the beach (look for the banner!).


Monarch Conservation Strategies

6 Mar

august 2011-lm photo 181

Chris Helzer (The Prairie Ecologist) of The Nature Conservancy updates us on conservation of Monarch butterflies and what we can do to help. Read his report and plant more Asclepiads!

Last week, I attended a conference aimed at creating a statewide conservation plan for monarch butterflies.  The meeting was really informative and thought-provoking.  I learned a great deal about …

Source: Monarch Conservation Strategies

Calumet Quarter students visit Rainbow Beach Dunes

13 Jun


This spring, I taught a course (Topics in Calumet Ecology) for University of Chicago undergrads in the Calumet Quarter — an experiential place-based program in environmental studies (check out the blog of our awesome students here). One of our field trips was to Rainbow Beach Dunes (on a cold day in May) and you can view photos of the trip here.  One of the students wrote a blog post about the history of Rainbow Beach!

The Story Behind Rainbow Beach

Since I was unable to go on the Rainbow Beach Dunes field trip I did some research on the site and did a write up on some of the interesting history of the area. The most incredible thing that I found was the story of the wade-ins that occurred in the summers of 1960 and 1961. The public spaces of Chicago were technically open to anyone at that time, but Rainbow Beach on Lake Michigan was effectively a white-only beach. On August 28, 1960 Velma Murphy Hill decided to change that. She led a small group of activists to the beach, and attempted to have a relaxing outing. However, it was uncomfortable for all of the brave activists, as many of the typical patrons of the beach stared, made comments or left. Unfortunately, the worst was yet to come. When they decided to leave the beach, a huge group of men and women hemmed the activists in and began to shout at them. As the waders continued walking to leave, the mob began to throw stones as well as screaming, and Velma Murphy Hill was hit in the head with one of the larger rocks. She was sent to the hospital and received stitches for the wound, but despite the injury continued to push for the integration of the beach.

As the summer continued, the waders did not give in to the fear or the pressure of the angry masses, heading to the beach every day and enduring the awful treatment at the hands of the other beachgoers. As the movement grew in strength, the NAACP began to provide support, lobbying the City of Chicago to protect the activists, and sending other activists to increase the number of waders. Eventually, the City of Chicago took notice and began to provide the protestors with support as well. The most famous moment of the movement occurred on July 8, 1961. The waders arrived under the protection of 200 police men to keep the mob back as the numbers continued to swell throughout the day. There were 10 arrests made that day alone, and fortunately none of the protestors were injured. The protests continued after that day, but the angry mob began to dwindle. Every day the police and waders arrived at the beach in tandem until the police were no longer necessary.

Throughout this quarter we have been studying how the people in a certain area interact with their environment, but I think that it is also interesting and important to look at how they interact with each other within that environment. Today, Rainbow Beach is a place where Chicagoans of all races can come to relax, and had it not been for the brave efforts of Velma Murphy Hill and her fellow waders, the story may not have been the same.


Henry Chandler Cowles and the ecological theory of succession

24 Nov

When I lead stewardship work at Rainbow Beach Dunes, I speak often but briefly about Henry Chandler Cowles and his important contribution to understanding the dune ecosystems of southern Lake Michigan. Victor Cassidy (who I had the pleasure of meeting at the centennial celebration of the International Phytogeograpic Excursion earlier this year) wrote a terrific and highly recommended book about him: Henry Chandler Cowles: Pioneer Ecologist. You should read this.

But in the mean time, have a look at his 2007 article from Chicago Wilderness Magazine.

Henry Chandler Cowles:
Ecologist, Teacher, Conservationist

By Victor M. Cassidy

Through his life and work, he prefigured today’s conservation movement–and Chicago Wilderness.

Photos courtesy of the University of Chicago Library, Special Collections Research Center, University Department of Botany Records

On April 25, 1896, Henry Chandler Cowles visited the Indiana Dunes for the first time. “We climbed up the wonderful piles of sand and saw acres and acres stretching up and down the lake, billowy like a prairie or vast drifts of snow,” the University of Chicago graduate student wrote in his diary. “The sand dune flora is very characteristic and new to me.”


Calumet Stewardship Initiative – calendars of exploration and education

17 Feb

The Calumet Stewardship Initiative has put together a 2013 calendar of events for all kinds of Calumet adventurers (full disclosure, I am a member of their stewardship team).

First, the Calumet Outdoor Series is a monthly (or more often) showcase of natural areas in the region, some well known, some hidden. You might remember RBD was on the calendar last summer! I’ll be leading a tour of Warren Woods this spring. The series leader is Eric Neagu- contact him with questions or to RSVP to an event (



The Calumet Volunteer Enrichment Series is designed for those who want to get more involved in the region and are interested in volunteering once, or on a regular basis, at sites in the Calumet. The series leader is Becky Collings- contact him with questions or to RSVP to an event (



One Bottle at a Time (Save the Fishes)

1 Feb

Couldn’t resist sharing this terrific rap and video made by high school students in Redwood City, CA. They clearly think about some of the same topics we do at Rainbow– trash, clean water, and student environmental leadership! It’s well done, promotes a positive message about recycling and environmentalism, and the students are obviously having lots of fun. They are part of REAL, the Redwood Environmental Academy of Leadership, at Redwood City High School.

Wild Things Conference – February 2, 2013

27 Jan

If you didn’t get a chance to register for the Wild Things Conference, coming up this Saturday February 2, you can still register the day of the conference!

Wild Things is for volunteers, professionals and  anyone interested in local nature.

This day-long conference brings together the region’s best experts, hardest working professionals, most dedicated volunteers and anyone interested in nature. Technical presentations and interactive workshops will explore the latest in natural areas conservation, wildlife protection and monitoring. The conference is organized in “tracks” designed for everyone from newcomers to experts. There is special focus on empowering citizen scientists, stewards and advocates with information, networking and good ideas.”

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