Lake Michigan project moves first on Waterfront Edge Design Guidelines

Shoreline stabilization at Illinois Beach State Park, located on Lake Michigan just south of the Wisconsin border, began in early 2023 with the delivery of the excavator and construction materials via barge. Crews are on track for substantial completion this spring.

The Waterfront Alliance, New York, cites the Illinois Beach State Park Shoreline Stabilization Project as the first freshwater installation to achieve WEDG (Waterfront Edge Design Guidelines) Verification under the standard’s Version 3.0. WEDG is a national rating system and set of guidelines that pushes the bar for creating resilient, ecological, and accessible waterfront design. The Illinois Shoreline Stabilization Project is the 14th overall site to meet WEDG’s gold standard.

Illinois Beach State Park in Lake County is home to the last remaining natural shoreline in the state. Faced with constant erosion from Lake Michigan waves, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and Capital Development Board sought a solution that would renourish the eroded beach while also providing breakwaters that would slow down littoral processes and erosion to retain sand. Design lead Moffatt & Nichol documented 22 stone breakwaters to protect approximately 2.2 miles of beachfront. The breakwater solution will protect the renourished beach by reducing wave energy and beach loss, while shielding both shoreline and upland habitat from severe ongoing erosion. Habitat design lead Living Habitats LLC created new below and above water habitat elements, enhancing the breakwaters’ resilient custom design and promoting native flora and fauna in the Lake Michigan ecosystem. Contracting lead Michels projects placement of 300,000-plus tons of stone, ranging from 10-lb. bedding to 7-ton armor grades, along with 430,000 cubic yards of sand.

The State of Illinois is investing $73 million for constructing shoreline stabilization structures in three park locations. “Illinois Beach State Park is the final remaining undeveloped lakefront in Illinois, providing unique recreational opportunities, geological significance, and critical habitat for endangered species,” says Governor J.B. Pritzker. “Our historic Rebuild Illinois capital plan ensures we can protect the park from shoreline erosion and dune loss, maintaining this dynamic resource for Illinois residents.”

The Illinois Capital Development Board is overseeing the design and construction for Illinois Beach State Park in accordance with the protocol for state-appropriated construction projects. “By defending against the natural shoreline transitory processes, we are protecting, preserving, and enhancing the existing infrastructure,” affirms Board Executive Director Jim Underwood.

The project team took an environmentally balanced approach to the project, choosing to stabilize, renourish, and protect the beach, while providing habitat for aquatic and avian species. Rough surface stone breakwaters will support aquatic habitats for mudpuppies and yellow perch. Nests for Caspian and common terns will be integrated into a single breakwater structure, encouraging colonial nesting behavior. Closer to shore, the newly stabilized beach will increase connectivity between the shoreline and wetlands and provide important nesting habitat for endangered Great Lakes piping plovers.

The breakwater arrangement will afford park users unobstructed waterfront views between the structures, and the specified stone materials will provide a more natural appearance when viewing out across the Lake Michigan expanse. The project team also developed a strategy for reuse of materials from the site to minimize construction debris disposal and enhance biodiversity. Salvaged concrete ecoblocks will be converted into vegetated blocks that will provide a growing surface for submerged native species and new refuge for juvenile fish. Driftwood and fallen trees that needed to be removed or relocated to allow for the shoreline stabilization work will be repurposed as natural windrows along the edge of the beach fill template to create a natural barrier between the beach activities and internationally recognized, rare terrestrial and wetland habitats.

“The project team’s goal to protect the rapidly eroding beach with principles of resilience, ecology, and access throughout the site will ensure that the last remaining shoreline in the state is thriving in its environment and preserved for park users,” says Waterfront Alliance CEO Cortney Koenig Worrall. “Illinois State Beach Park demonstrates that WEDG is not only feasible but crucial on all varieties of waterfronts across the nation.”

WEDG Verification is awarded to projects that successfully pass a technical review of their designs against WEDG standards. External specialists in engineering, architecture, and landscape architecture determined that the Illinois State Beach Park exceeded WEDG Verification requirements, earning 146 out of 250 possible points, with 130 points needed to pass.