A group of friends and their bikes pause for a photo under the City of Chicago Big Marsh Park sign.

Friends of Big Marsh

Friends of Big Marsh is a nonprofit whose focus includes the 297 acres of Big Marsh and the surrounding Southeast Chicago communities. Our intention is to make the area a destination for people to connect with nature and the outdoors.

Chicago’s Southeast Side is known for both the cultural beauty of its people and the negative effects of the collapse of the steel industry. The development of Chicago's steel industry employed many residents in the 20th century, but that industry brought significant pollution, especially in areas like Big Marsh, and its eventual collapse led to severe economic deprivation. But our community is resilient. The leadership and activism of community residents created an environmental justice movement that saved Big Marsh from becoming a landfill.

Since its opening in 2016, the park has grown to encompass nearly 300 acres. It includes a 40-acre bike park, a primitive camping area with 12 tent platforms (a first for the Park District), a wildlife observation platform, and a fully accessible trail. Nearby projects include a climbing wall at Steelworkers Park made on the hulking concrete ore walls left over from the steel industry, a multi-access path, and other natural areas.

Friends of Big Marsh hopes to continue to strengthen its relationships with communities across the Southeast side of Chicago. Our After School Matters program encourages teens to engage as ambassadors for their parks while learning basic bike mechanics, community mapping, and ride marshaling. Our partnership with Northwestern University and Lurie Children’s Hospital will study the health benefits of time in green space with community organizations in Southeast Chicago. In 2021, Friends of Big Marsh is striving to collaborate with community partners working with young people who have experienced PTSD to explore the space while integrating mindfulness practices.

Friends of Big Marsh continually works toward a future that celebrates the legacy of its environmentally conscious community members, while connecting the natural areas and people of the Southeast side of Chicago.

To learn more, visit https://bigmarsh.org

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The REI Cooperative Action Fund is a 501(c)(3) public charity. 100% of donations from the general public are invested in grantees. Donations are are tax deductible within the guidelines of U.S. law. Learn more in our FAQs.