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Project Specifications

The Wild Mile will be the first-ever mile-long floating eco-park in the world. 

The initial 1,500 square feet of the park was installed in June of 2017 by Urban Rivers – the final mile-long floating eco-park will span almost the entire east side of Goose Island in the North Branch Canal of the Chicago River. Upon its completion in 2020, it will contain floating gardens, forests, wetlands, and public walkways and kayak access points.

Our hardware is engineered to survive Chicago conditions year-round. Our supplier, Biomatrix Water, builds their floating garden structures with the following technical features: 

  • Fully cross-braced structure

  • UV resistant thermo-fused tough floats

  • Marine-grade engineering to withstand all weather conditions

  • Concrete anchors secured using weighted guide rail

  • Locking stainless steel quick connect system – allows for additional habitat to be easily connected

Rendering created by SOM.

Rendering created by SOM.

Why is this project important?

Adding some greenery to those rusty seawalls.

Adding some greenery to those rusty seawalls.

  • The wildlife in the Chicago River is in desperate need of habitat and our floating habitat provides vital sanctuaries for many species of fish, birds, turtles and more.

  • The Chicago River needs to be cleaned up. Aside from obvious pieces of trash in the river, the water quality needs significant improvement. The plants in the park are contributing to that effort by naturally filtering the water, via the process of phytoremediation.

  • This is an opportunity to educate our community on the environment and create engaging STEAM curriculum for students (STEAM = Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math).

  • Environmental innovation can economically benefit cities across the world...and it all starts in Chicago.






Rendering created by Biomatrix Water.

Rendering created by Biomatrix Water.


Which ORGANISMS use the WILD MILE as habitat? 

Thus far, we've observed the below list of organisms utilize the artificial habitat we've installed:

  • Fish – bluegill, largemouth bass, common carp, tadpole madtoms, spotfin shiners

  • Birds – mallard ducks, wood ducks, cormorants, great blue herons, red-tailed hawks, Canadian geese, American coots, English Sparrows

  • Invertebrates – monarch butterflies, small white butterflies, dragonflies, damselfies, bumble bees, honey bees, ladybugs

  • Reptiles – painted turtles

We expect to see these additional species join the list in the near future

  • Mammals – muskrats, field mice, river otters

  • Reptiles and Amphibians – snapping turtles, American toads, bullfrogs


Which plants ARE we usING?  

Light green = tall plants; dark green = low to medium plants; brown = bird platforms; grey = turtle platforms

Light green = tall plants; dark green = low to medium plants; brown = bird platforms; grey = turtle platforms

We've planted native Illinois wetland and prairie plant species to provide the habitat foundation for our floating gardens. The gardens' design allows us to maximize biodiversity in a small area, because it allows us to grow plants in a wide range of water tolerances. This gives us the tremendous opportunity to create a resilient ecosystem by planting multiple different food and nectar sources, which significantly benefits native wildlife. Each individual plant selected brings more wildlife back to the Chicago River.

Our next garden expansion will include Filipendula rubra, Iliamna remota, Liatris spicata, Spartina pectinata, and Carex vulpinoidea to name a few (images to the left). These plants will be carefully selected by experts, including our own, Peter Nagle, who's a botanist at the Chicago Botanic Garden.


facts you should know

  • 2⁄3 of an inch of precipitation or more in Chicago, inundates the city's 2 water treatment plants, forcing raw waste into the river 

    • This overloads the river with excess pollutants, like nitrates, phosphates and pharmaceuticals

  • Phytoremediation uses plants and their associated microbes, to reduce the concentrations or toxic effects of contaminants in an environment – as the river water passes through The Wild Mile's root systems, it will be filtered as the roots absorb the water, along with the substances in it 

    • Relatively new technology – already perceived as cost-effective, efficient, novel, eco-friendly and has received ample public acceptance

    • Can reduce chemical oxygen demand by 55.3%, total suspended solids by 91.1%, total nitrogen by 91.5% and ammonia–nitrogen by 86.5%, while also improving water transparency by 140 cm (1)

  • Letting children enjoy nature has been linked to improvements in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning ability, creativity, and psychological and emotional wellbeing; yet, only 21% of today's children regularly play outside, compared to 71% for their parents’ generation

  • Access to parks can help people increase their level of physical activity, which can reduce heart disease, obesity and diabetes

    • Can save people under 65 years, $250 annually, and people over 65 years, $500 annually (ibid) 

  • A 10% increase in tree canopy cover in a city can decrease ambient temperature from the urban heat island effect by 3–4 °C (2)


Future Research

We are looking for masters and PHD students with an interest in Urban Ecology. If you have an idea and wish to pursue it please contact us. 




1. Hu, C. et al. (2012). Phytoremediation of the polluted Waigang River and general survey on variation of phytoplankton population. Environmental Science and Pollution Research, 19 (9): 4168-4175.

2. Elmqvist, T. et al. (2015). Benefits of restoring ecosystem services in urban areas. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability , 14 : 101-108.