Chicago owes its very existence as a city to the location of the Chicago Portage.
The first European explorers, Jolliet & Marquette, recorded the existence of the
Portage in 1673. It provided a relatively easy connection between the Atlantic
and the Gulf of Mexico by linking Lake Michigan with the Mississippi River.
A small portion of this historic portage is preserved as the Chicago Portage National
Historic Site by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County in Portage Woods and
Ottawa Trail Woods in Lyons, Illinois.
The Chicago Portage National Historic Site (CPNHS) is one of only two
National Historic Sites in Illinois and one of the few in the country that is
not owned by the National Park Service. It is the only remnant of Chicago's
beginnings where you can stand on the same ground walked upon by the
explorers, fur trader, early settlers and creators of Chicago.
The Friends of the Chicago Portage (FCP) organization was created in 2001 to
promote the full interpretation, ecological restoration and appropriate development
of the Chicago Portage National Historic Site through volunteer advocacy, public
events and other projects that raise public awareness of its history and significance.
Adjacent to Portage Woods FP is a 10 acre property is owned by the Metropolitan Water
Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRDGC). The previous leasee, Lake River Terminal,
a petroleum products business, vacated the property in 2002 and the MWRDGC is proceeding with
an environmental evaluation and clean-up of the site. An existing building on the site could
be rehabilitated as aninterpretive center.
Development of this site would also buffer the site from future industrial development, eliminate the
need to disturb sensitive archeological areas in Portage Woods, would provide adqueate parking
for the National Historic Site and allow visitors to enter the site without having to cross busy streets.
Two previous economic feasibility studies (in 1975 & 1989) predicted that an interpretive center
at the Chicago Portage National Historic Site, located next to a major metropolitan area and
adjacent to an interstate highway, would draw 600,000 to one million visitors a year. If that
seems to be an optimistic estimate, consider that the other National Historic Site in Illinois,
the Lincoln Home in Springfield, draws nearly 400,000 visitors per year.
The Forest Preserve District of Cook County could lease the former Lake River
Terminal site for $1 per year for up to sixty years. The FPDCC has the power to issue
bonds and could help finance the development of the interpretive center. But a larger coalition
of federal, state, county and local support must be developed to plan and fund the project.
Friends of the Chicago Portage is dedicated to helping create a coalition of support
for an interpretive center to fully communicate the stories of the Chicago Portage.
Up to the Chicago Portage