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Restoring River Riparian Connectivity and Habitat: Fixing Chicago's Last Dam Problem

Lauren Umek, PhD

Urban Ecologist and Project Manager

Chicago Park District


Lauren is the Chicago Park District's project manager for the removal of the North Branch dam at River Park. Built in 1910, the dam was eliminated in July 2018 in an effort to open up another 20 miles of the river for fish and provides new recreational and education opportunities. She will describe how 3 different municipalities, each serving a different geographic region, with different missions, and funding sources worked together to restore this critical piece of local ecology and how it fits into a larger conservation context.

Dr. Lauren Umek joined the Chicago Park District in July 2014 as a Project Manager in the Department of Cultural and Natural Resources, working on the Natural Areas Team. There, she works on the planning, design, grant administration, public engagement, research collaborations, implementation, and monitoring of large-scale natural areas. She has over 15 years of experience in natural area restoration within the Chicago region and recently completed per PhD in Plant Biology and Conservation at Northwestern University and the Chicago Botanic Garden. There, she studied the impacts of European buckthorn invasion and explored novel methods for removal and successful restoration. She also conducted field research on 120 woodlands and prairies across 4 counties in the Chicago region to describe how time since restoration impacted plant communities and soil processes. Prior to joining the Chicago Park District, Lauren worked on a variety of urban ecology projects, examining Chicago’s street tree health, leading environmental education programs with the Shedd Aquarium, and coordinating local conservation research efforts.