Open 9 am - 5 pm

Through rain and snow, wind and cold, habitat restoration must go on! Shedd’s Conservation Action Team, and the interns they bring along with them, work outside rain or shine to ensure that our conservation work tied to Shedd’s mission is accomplished.

One of our most recent and grand accomplishments wrapped up in late 2022; in partnership with Urban Rivers, Shedd teams and volunteers helped to install over 3,000-square-feet of floating wetlands on the South Branch of the Chicago River to provide vital habitat for local wildlife and strengthen biodiversity in the river.

This massive undertaking, which included building the floating islands and planting native plant species on them to flourish, is an extension of a similar project to grow the Wild Mile on the river’s North Branch. Great progress along the river doesn’t come without hard work. Enjoy this account of a day on the South Branch floating wetland installation as told by a Shedd employee new to conservation fieldwork.

A volunteer smiles at the camera holding a tray of native plants that will be planted on floating wetland islands on the South Branch of the Chicago River.

Aaliyah McFadden, fall 2022 SHIP Intern with Shedd’s Conservation Action team

A Day in the Life

As I began my first day of island builds at Park 571, I felt a rush of excitement that morning as I prepared for a frigid November day on the water. Upon my arrival I immediately stepped into rubber rain boots and a donated bright orange wind-breaker in hopes of staying dry and warm on a windy day. I had no idea what to expect, but I had grown to trust the Conservation Action team.

Though I normally spend my days indoors as a member of the Guest Relations team at Shedd, I was fortunate enough to join the Conservation Action team through the Shedd Internal Internship Program (SHIP), a 12-week program that allows staff to experience work within other departments. My internship allows me to dive into conservation work like this, such as floating island builds and installation, as well as gain critical professional development and work experience.

On the river, I was confident that I would have fun while learning about conservation and participating in habitat restoration efforts. To know that no matter what job I was tasked with I would be supported and trusted was a great feeling and I had become accustomed to it when working with the Conservation Action team.

It was decided that I would be transporting native plants that would be planted on the island from the top of a hill to the bottom near the river. This task was admittedly tiring, but I could not help but enjoy it; I was helping to build floating wetlands for work!

As I began to sort plants, the wind picked up and my time carrying plants was cut short as flurries began to turn into snowflakes. As we all waited for the weather to pass, we ate warm breakfast sandwiches while the snow turned back to rain above me, but I was happy to be a part of the team.

Soon, the weather calmed down and it was back to work. I picked up trays of plants with the help of a few volunteers and before I knew it, we had transported most of the plants to the island and were ready to begin planting.

As I stepped on the moving surface of the island, I felt a flood of uneasiness that quickly turned to enjoyment as I realized the impact of what we were doing. Months earlier, I knew nothing of the implementation of floating wetlands and the importance of rehabilitation to increase biodiversity within the Chicago River. Today I am thankful that I had the opportunity to play a vital part in the restoration of the river. The South Branch installation taught me firsthand the effort that goes into conservation work in the city of Chicago.

Artificial wetlands in the South Branch of the Chicago River being built in the water and on land with skyline and crane in the background.
Volunteers hold buckets and spread gravel to prepare a foundation for plants to be planted on the floating wetlands on the South Branch of the Chicago River

Learning and Growing

Studying environmental studies and journalism at DePaul University, I developed a passion for the environment and could not wait to get involved in efforts to restore it. With hopes of stepping into the environmental field, I was ecstatic when I found out that I had been chosen for the SHIP internship. As I began my internship with the Conservation Action team, I immediately felt welcomed with open arms and cheerful faces.

When jumping into conservation work with the team, I was met with a fun and educational experience. The days spent during the cold winter months were not always easy for a first timer, but the team made it all worth it. One of the main lessons I learned while working with the team was the importance of supportive and passionate colleagues. On days when work was hard, the team's positive and passionate outlook inspired me to try a little harder each day.

In all honesty, I had no Idea what to expect when diving into conservation fieldwork, but with a passion for the environment I was more than ready to begin my career development. The exposure that I gained from this experience has given me more than enough confidence to continue to pursue careers within the environmental field.

- Aaliyah McFadden, fall 2022 SHIP Intern with Shedd’s Conservation Action team