October 2020 drone photo of the Montrose natural areas
by Kendall Anderson

Dear Volunteers and Friends of Montrose Beach Dunes,

I hope this finds you well and enjoying this blissfully warm Fall. The Chicago Park District's natural areas contractor is completing the two mechanical treatments of the Piping Plover fluddle/foraging area to ensure sparse vegetation cover in the Spring and it looks fantastic. The panne rope/stake fencing and Piping Plover protection fencing have all been removed to prevent sand deposition over the Winter. The dunes are in pristine shape!

The growing season may have ended, but our work on behalf of the dune habitat is far from over. Winter is a time of quiet and reflection and, in 2020–21, increased isolation as the surge in coronavirus cases continues to alter our behavior and lifestyles in profound ways. Stewardship work in the dunes last season was a great an antidote to COVID-stress and it's hard to imagine not being there this Winter. But I have a challenge for you that will require the same energy, passion, and advocacy you would spend any summer day at Montrose.

Last July and August I requested that the Chicago Park District (CPD) add the Piping Plover nesting/foraging area ("fluddle" and Bank Swallow colony) to Montrose Beach Dunes and grant it formal protection. The request was made at two site meetings and the District is considering it now. I've also discussed this proposal with many of you and there is universal agreement that it's a great idea and long overdue.

The proposed habitat addition would extend from the western edge of the fluddle south to the stone wall at the sidewalk, roughly forming a rectangle. It is delineated by the Piping Plover protection fencing that was in place earlier this season and is basically a continuation of the existing western habitat protection fence south to the rock wall. The area encompasses the habitat used during the most critical phases of breeding, brooding, and rearing of the Piping Plover chicks.

The habitat addition would also protect the Bank Swallow colony of over 150 nests that exists along the present upper beach fenceline. Bank Swallows nest colonially in ephemeral sites and there is some uncertainty about their status in North America. The Breeding Bird Survey suggests a significant decline over the last 50 years, and Partners in Flight lists Bank Swallow as a "Common Bird in Steep Decline." Swallows and swifts in general have experienced declines which seem tied to diminished insect populations due primarily to the overuse of insecticides. Though it remains a common, widespread species in some places, Bank Swallows are showing large declines and breeding birds are certainly rare in the City of Chicago. 

You've all noticed the drastic changes at Montrose Beach Dunes during the past few years. Rising water levels, erosion, and climate change have significantly altered the site's topography and size (from 14 to 9 acres). Lake Michigan has swallowed up almost a third of the globally-imperiled panne habitat with a concomitant effect on the state- and federally-listed plant species and on migratory and nesting birds. This is another compelling reason for adding the high quality habitat in the southwest quadrant.

Adding more protected habitat would be an important benefit to Monty and Rose, as well as the other nesting and migratory birds that use the internationally-acclaimed Montrose natural areas. More habitat would also be a meaningful and significant contribution to the preservation of Illinois’ natural heritage and the suite of state- and federally-listed plant and animal species that occur at Montrose Beach Dunes (28 plant species, 18 bird species). When Piping Plovers are not nesting and raising their young, the new habitat addition would be open to the public, just as the entire habitat is always open to the public outside of this period. Interpretive signage would enhance the area and educate visitors about its importance for the plovers and the site's rare flora.
Active recreational activities such as volleyball can be undertaken in many parts of the Montrose Recreational Area. Piping Plovers seeking to breed do not have that luxury. In this era of climate change, historically high lake levels, and disappearing beaches, it is unrealistic to expect active recreational activities requiring large amounts of space to continue on the diminished beach area available to diverse public user groups, flora, and fauna. It makes sense to prioritize an endangered bird species, especially one that has demonstrated repeated yearly success at Montrose Beach Dunes. The volleyball players seem to be aware of this unique situation and many are supportive of our plover protection efforts. During the past season and beach/lakefront closure, players set up games in many other nearby settings. Suitable places for larger recreational uses can be found. One idea for volleyball courts might be the open field just west of the Montrose Beach House, where the view of the lake and beach is beautiful, access to area concessions is excellent, and flooding is less likely to disrupt planned games

Our state and federal partners (Illinois Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Illinois Natural History Survey, etc.) have been encouraged by the tremendous positive support the Chicago Park District has offered over the past two years to ensure the Piping Plover breeding success. The Chicago Park District wants to hear from you. Please take some time over the next few weeks to send personal letters and messages supporting the habitat addition to the four top officials listed below. This will greatly facilitate the decision process because the Park District really cares about what public user groups think and want.

In crafting your messages, please be careful not to ask for anything more than the beach area we've outlined. Montrose Beach is Chicago's largest and hosts many other important user groups and stakeholders. As important as it is for migratory birds, the beach also holds a vital importance for lower income families seeking refuge from the heat in summer and diverse others seeking recreational opportunities. Be specific and reasonable!

[email protected] (General Superintendent)

[email protected] (Chief Operating Officer)

[email protected] (Assistant Director of Landscape, Cultural and Natural Resources Department)

[email protected] (Director, Cultural and Natural Resources Department)

Finally, I want to note the departure of a dear colleague whom I just learned is leaving Chicago to start a new life out of state. Jason Steger is the Chicago Park District's Natural Areas Manager and has worked with the District for the past 13 years. Many of you have met him at meetings and stewardship workdays. Jason has been a wonderful partner and a strong advocate for Montrose Beach Dunes. He was the point person for federal and state agency staff these past two years managing the Piping Plover nesting and foraging areas, making sure all issues were addressed and things proceeded smoothly. Jason, we will miss you and wish you much joy and success in your new endeavors!
Photo by Mike P. Roche
Best regards,

October sky over main dune by Margaret Enger
Moonrise over main dune by Melanie Eckner