Folks strolling along the woodchip and gravel path along the North Shore Channel are likely to come across the Grady Bird Sanctuary, a haven of nature.
Located in the Ladd Arboretum, between McCormick Boulevard and the canal and behind the Ecology Center, this sanctuary is home to a small fountain intended to look like a waterfall, with an interesting history.
Commissioned and funded by the Grady Family Foundation, the sanctuary was intended as a comfortable home for birds and the fountain as a water source.
The Ladd Arboretum has been considered the ideal choice for wildlife habitat as it serves as a downtown wooded area designed to protect native species.
“There was already interest in attracting wildlife, and in this case we were quite interested in attracting migratory birds and trying to create this stopover,” explains Charles Smith, a longtime member of the Ladd Arboretum Board. “We also wanted to create a lot of nesting opportunities in the Arboretum for year-round residents.”
Smith was not involved in the original creation of the shrine and water source, but was an important resource later in the shrine’s history. “The goal was to help the arboretum become a more sustainable habitat for wildlife in general.”
But after more than a decade, the fountain fell into disrepair and stopped working altogether. While the sanctuary still served as a habitat for many of Evanston’s wildlife, the fountain no longer served its function as a beautiful sight and watering hole for birds.
Then Smith, a landscape contractor, came into the picture. Commissioned and funded by the Grady Family Foundation, which continues to pay for the shrine’s upkeep, Smith completely redesigned and reconstructed the original fountain. After years of being unusable, the water source was working again.
“[The original fountain] had ceased to function as a water source for birds, and much of the masonry and infrastructure had fallen apart,” Smith said. He added, “The idea was to replace it with something more attractive and functional.”
The fountain’s renovation went beyond just keeping the water running. Smith and his team also focused on replacing surrounding plants with native plants that were beneficial to the birds.
The fountain as part of the landscape
In addition, the replacement fountain that Smith built was specifically designed to fit in with the environment. It looks more like a mini waterfall, and that was the goal.
“The idea behind the design was to mimic a more natural environment,” explains Smith. “One of the most pleasant things about these types of water features is the sound of the water flowing over the rocks into the pool. So that’s one of the parts of it – also to visually create something that would mimic a natural water flow.”
The water flowing through the fountain is continuously recycled. After reaching the reservoir at the bottom, the water is pumped back up, where it is filtered and then pulled back down the rocks by gravity.
The project to recreate the fountain only took a few weeks, but Smith encountered some difficulties along the way, such as securing the electricity source for the water pumps.
“There was no electricity to operate the water circulation pumps. So we had to dig a trench from McCormick Boulevard and run several electrical lines to the fountain site,” Smith said. “And that turned out to be one of the most expensive parts of the whole thing, getting electricity to the site to run the pumps that would circulate the water.”
Vandals cause new problems
The fountain’s initial update served the purpose of the Grady Bird Sanctuary well, until kids started vandalizing the water feature, Smith said. With no real barriers to protect it, this quickly became a major problem.
“It wasn’t protected. And for a few years no one was bothered by it. And then suddenly some kids found it and started destroying it. And they destroyed it so much that they just had to turn it off,” explains Smith.
That has prompted the fountain’s current renovation – making it more vandal resistant. Instead of a ground-level water reservoir, such as a small pond, the new fountain will have an underground reservoir, making it difficult to throw objects into the water.
While Smith isn’t overseeing this series of renovations, he said he agrees with the concept of the new, better-protected fountain, but fears it won’t be enough. “It’s a little more vandal-proof, but naughty kids can find many ways to be bad. There’s just no doubt about it.”
Renovations to the water feature have progressed in recent weeks, and when completed, Smith and many others hope the Grady Bird Sanctuary will help provide a habitat for local wildlife and a place for residents to enjoy as well.
“It’s something that provides a place where butterflies and birds can congregate and people can go there to see and enjoy them,” Smith said, highlighting the frequent use of the sanctuary and fountain. He continued, “There’s a lot going on with the bird sanctuary, and it’s really a wonderful thing.”