Woods & Wetlands

 Sierra Club 
Woods & Wetlands Group

Fort Sheridan South Bluff

July, 2002

The South Beach at Fort Sheridan is a huge piece of relatively undeveloped shoreline. Although it looks attractive from a casual visit, the problems illustrated below on this page are serious, and will need to be remedied in order to restore and preserve these beach, bluff and ravine ecosystems to health. This will require redirecting the stormwater, and properly retaining and treating it at the top of the bluff.

The beach, bluff, and uplands are presently owned by the Navy and the Army. Our IL Congressman Mark Kirk is eager to have it preserved as open space, and to help transfer it to the Lake County Forest Preserve District (LCFPD). Presently the LCFPD has turned down the offer because of the severe drainage problems illustrated on this page. The Navy/Army would be bound to clean up any toxic wastes even after such a transfer, but it is presently unclear whether they are obligated or inclined to remedy the stormwater situation.

Proper handling of the stormwater will require stormwater retention in sloughs and wetlands, as well as restoration of at least 50 ft. buffer strips, at the top of the bluff. In addition, the LCFPD is concerned about reliable access to the bluff for the public and staff. The groins presently restrict travel along the beach, and that could worsen if the lake water returns to the higher levels of the 1990's. Alternatively, the housing that crowds the top of the bluff would have to be reconfigured as open space to provide a suitable and contiguous location for trail access to the top of the bluff. These changes, necessary for preservation of Lake Michigan, its shoreline, the bluff, and an open space amenity, will be costly.  The LCFPD is concerned that they do not have the financial resources to take on this site in this condition.

We look beyond these present problems, and believe that the opportunity to preserve this grand expanse of Lake Michigan shoreline is one that deserves the support of the extended Lake Michigan community. Stewardship of this irreplaceable resource now will prove a priceless amenity for this and future generations.

The next steps are

We seek member volunteers eager to help pursue this challenge. Contact us to get involved.

 Problems and Opportunities

Southern Approach

Facing SE.

Playgrounds just N of Walker St. border the bluff on Ft. Sheridan's South Beach. 
Mapquest location of Boles Loop shows a poor street map.
Mapquest view of Boles Loop shows a small aerial view.
Terraserver view of Ft. Sheridan and Highland Park shows a detailed satellite view.

Wooden Stairs

Facing E, near Walker Street at the S end of the S Beach.

These stairs lead straight down to the beach. 

Bluff Meadow?

Facing E.

Descending wooden stairs. Is a meadow/prairie the native condition of this bluff, or was it tinkered with? 

View from Stairs

Facing N.

Most of the bluff to the N is covered with trees. 

Water works

Facing S.

Just S of Walker St. is this building, thought to be for the Highland Park water intake. 

Ft. Sheridan South Beach

Facing N.

This beautiful expanse of shoreline seems marred only by steel groins installed to retain the sand. 

Westover Ravine

Facing E, near the top of the ravine. This ravine forms the northern border of the S. Beach area.

The creek that would otherwise occupy this ravine has been replaced by this 1/2 mile road. Gutters collect water that seeps out of the banks. The concrete gutters prevent any of the water from soaking into the ground, conveying it, and any pollutants it might carry, quickly to the lake.

Here, the bank has slumped into the gutter. Why?

Westover Ravine

Facing NE, about half way down the ravine.

Another slump, this one larger. The cause must be systematic.

Westover Ravine Erosion

Facing NE, about half way down.

The same slump, outlined in green. A major piece of the ravine bank, trees and all, has slid down.

Is this a natural ravine process?

Broken Sewers

Facing E, at the bottom of the ravine road.

The tiles that carried water from the gutters into a ditch that crosses the beach have broken. Here the water from a light rain 12 hours earlier runs across the pavement and erodes the beach. 

Beach Erosion

Facing W, about 1000 ft S of Westover road.

The rainwater rushed across the beach here. Is this erosion natural? 

Beach Lagoon

Facing NW, about 2000 ft S of Westover road.

The rush of water got trapped behind the beach. The sand filtered out its filth. Where did it come from?

Mysterious Holes

Facing W, not far from the lagoon.

Many dark holes punctuate the wooded cover at the base of the beach. 

Familiar Sight

Facing NW, S of the lagoon..

Like the slump on the ravine road, a huge area of the bank once slid toward the beach. The dark squiggles on the lower right of the oval are steel retaining walls installed to try to hold it back. 

What caused this slump? Is it a natural process for the bluff?

Closer Look

Facing W, standing on a groin.

The red line points to a trail leading up the bluff. 

Putrid Water

Facing N.

Some sections of the beach were clean, but those S of where water flowed onto the beach were coated with smelly slime that churned in the light waves. 

The beach is so narrow here that this groin becomes an obstacle.

Landfill 6 & 7

Facing SW.

This culvert presumably delivers drainage to the lake that might have otherwise permeated this dump. The red line points to probable test well to monitor for possible toxics flowing from the dumps to the lake. The dumps are to be capped to further restrict water movement through unknown waste. Is this the best long-term solution?

Who will monitor these in the future? What are they testing for? 

Development above the Bluff

Facing NE, S of Boles Loop, back from the bluff. (Boles Loop borders Westover ravine to the S, and this is about 1000 ft S of Boles.)

The Navy built large buildings all around, and right up to the top of the bluff. Will they remain? 

More big buildings

Facing NE, S of view above. 


Facing ENE, looking slightly right of the previous shot. The road curves and, past some fences, skirts the top of the bluff.

Baseball, Buildings

Facing SE, same location.

These buildings are all right on the top of the bluff. 


Facing E, S of the baseball area.

The trees mark the top of the bluff. 

Bluff Edge

Facing E, same location.

There are no buffers between the lawns and the steep grade. 


Facing N, slightly N vantage from the previous shot.

Do these town homes have basements? If so, how are they kept dry?


Facing S, slightly N vantage from the previous shot.


Near Walker St.

Facing NW, near the playground.


More Housing

Facing S.

The trees mark the top of the bluff. 

More Housing

Facing N.



Facing N, same.

No set-backs, no buffers for the bluff. 

More Housing

Facing S, near wooden stairs (N of Walker St.).


Remnant Trees?

Facing SW, near the wooden stairs.

Were these trees standing when the housing was built? How many trees were removed to make way? 

The habit continues as more trees were recently removed from the ravine N of Westover. The new houses that were built there also crowd that ravine, and have questionable drainage.

Boles Loop

Facing W, at the SE corner of the loop. The bluff is 100 ft. behind the photographer.

Behind the left tree is a lawn sprinkler. Lawns only look like this when they receive fertilizer, herbicides, and pesticides. These chemicals tend to wash away. In the left foreground is a drainage grate. Where does the water go?

Boles Loop

Facing E, same spot, looking toward the lake.

Another drainage grate. Where could the water possibly go except down the bluff? The white spots between the trees in the upper part of the picture are light from the bluff. 

A trail leads from the edge of the road, into the woods, along the hedge on the right side of this picture. 

Boles Trail

Facing S, looking down.

The trail leads along the edge of this big eroded ravine, and the down the bluff to the beach. This is probably the same trail marked with a red pointer in the earlier picture.

Boles Erosion

Facing W, looking down.

The water collected from the drains in the streets and parking lots around Boles Loop ends up here. 

Besides eroding away the soil, this water probably is the root cause of the slumps along the beach. The pollution it carries is probably to blame for the putrid waters where it reaches the beach. 

Mismanagement of surface runoff at the top of the bluff is degrading the bluff and the beach. Unfortunately, this is only one of several problem areas along the South Beach. 

Links to related sites:

Kemron Tetra Tech EM. Ft. Sheridan Landfills 6&7 Capping Plan

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