Nature Boardwalk Undergoes Prescribed Burn

March 7, 2024

Lincoln Park Zoo’s Nature Boardwalk will undergo a prescribed burn Thursday, March 7. Horticulture staff, in partnership with the local fire department, has determined that conditions are ideal for this long-planned maintenance process.

The Nature Boardwalk prairie ecosystem will be burned 100 feet at a time and will be monitored at all times. Active burn areas will be surrounded by water or a low-trimmed grassy area to keep fire contained. Staff will oversee the process and will have water sources nearby.

Along with smoke, flames, and Horticulture staff, guests may also see Chicago Fire Department personnel and emergency vehicles.

This is the first time Lincoln Park Zoo has done a prescribed burn as part of its management of Nature Boardwalk. However, fire is a natural part of the renewal process for grasslands, and prairies benefit from occasional burns. Burning the prairie ecosystem helps native seeds germinate and gets rid of invasive plants. It’s a natural, ecological restoration process.

As with everything at Lincoln Park Zoo, the prairie burn is being conducted with animal safety in mind. For example, logs used by local turtles and other wildlife will not be affected. Also, the effects of the procedure on the resident animals at nearby zoo habitats, including the Camel and Zebra Area and Farm-in-the-Zoo, will be monitored and mitigated as needed.

Restored to prairieland in 2010, Nature Boardwalk is a fully functioning ecosystem which includes hundreds of plant and animal species, including birds, frogs, turtles, fish, and insects. The zoo’s Horticulture team maintains the area by removing invasive growth and conducting an annual floristic survey to optimize its biodiversity.

Researchers from the zoo’s Urban Wildlife Institute utilize the area as a living laboratory to help them understand how animals use urban habitats and how to foster nurturing environments for both people and animals. Zoo staff also use Nature Boardwalk to teach learners of all ages—including tour groups and interns conducting independent research projects—about prairies and the benefits of urban green spaces.

For more information on Nature Boardwalk, click here.

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