Neighbors and other volunteer groups install native plants at Canal Shores. Photos courtesy of Evanston Wilmette Golf Course Association

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Evanston’s public golf course been called a few names in its 99 years – the Evanston Community Golf Club, the Peter Jans Memorial Golf Course, the Frank Govern Memorial Golf Course, and now, Canal Shores. The Evanston Wilmette Golf Course Association-operated 18-hole course occupies 82 acres along the North Shore Channel from Lincoln Street into Wilmette. The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) owns the land, which the golf course association subleases from the City of Evanston under a master lease that runs through May 31, 2032.

In addition to the golfers who tee up even in inclement weather – playing about 11,000 rounds each year – denizens of the golf course environs include deer, coyotes, red foxes, raccoons, opossums, skunks, gray squirrels, flying squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, mice, voles, and people out for a quiet, meandering walk alone or with friends or a pet.

Together with the waters of the canal, red maple, black walnuts, white pine, cottonwood, American elm, oak, and buckeye trees offer shelter to several dozen species of birds – among them starlings, red-wing blackbirds, brown-headed cow birds, red-breasted mergansers, yellow warblers, Eastern kingbirds, blue-winged teals, great egrets, Canada geese, robins, mourning doves, warbling vireos, barn swallows, great horned owls, and red-tailed hawks.

Looking to the next century in the life of the golf course, the board of directors, staff, and a host of volunteers are casting a wide net to get input from stakeholders about how to craft a final strategic plan for Canal Shores. The final strategic plan is expected to combine two uses that have historically seemed incompatible, a vibrant golf course and a sustainable ecological preserve.

At a Seventh Ward meeting on Feb. 13, Steve Neumann, chair of the Ecological Subcommittee, described the ecological master plan, a framework for maintaining and enhancing the natural habitat in and around an 18-hole golf course in an urban environment.

Work Before the Master Plan
 Work was begun in part even before the master plan evolved. The area has been certified as a wildlife habitat through the National Wildlife Federation and has been certified by the Audubon Society Program for Golf, which, according to the Audubon Society website, is “an education program that helps golf courses protect the environment and preserve the natural heritage of the game of golf.”

The Golf Course Association also received a grant through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Coastal Management Program.

Volunteers gather regularly to clear out invasive species, such as buckthorn and river grape and to plant native flowers and grasses, Mr. Neumann said.

“Volunteers show up at the ProShop the second Saturday of every month at 9:30 a.m. And people can also e-mail to get on the e-mail notification list,“ Mr. Neumann said,

This spring will be the second year for the plants to bloom. Mr. Neumann said, “These kinds of changes make you happier, make you healthier.”

Continual fundraising, which includes securing grants, allowed the association to hire Planning Resources, Inc. (PRI) of Wheaton to design a master ecological plan for the area.

The Master Plan
To generate base maps and working documents for a detailed site analysis, PRI collected data on the site components, such as topography, drainage patterns, slope aspects, hydrology, floodplain and floodway information, soils, and drainage characteristics. The next step was an inventory of vegetation, habitat, ecosystems, access, and potential pedestrian corridors and conflicts.

The site analysis includes graphically mapping several aspects of the habitat: wetland plant communities; upland plant communities; significant mature trees; microclimates; floodplain and flood-prone areas; poorly drained areas and depressions; and wildlife habitats.

As a baseline for the master plan, Mr. Neumann said, PRI conducted a tree survey, delineated the wetlands, and evaluated the habitat.  

The resulting Canal Shores Ecological Restoration Master Plan was developed with the recreational and environmental goals in mind, Mr. Neumann said. It proposes suggestions for maintaining and enhancing the entire golf course habitat – the wetlands, meadows, trees, and wildlife. The plan also calls for creating passive recreation areas, including a kayak and canoe launch and paths around the perimeter and at some points within the course. Entry points could be marked with interpretive signs about the particular hole of the golf course and its wildlife.  

Aside from the wetlands, uneven drainage and other problems of flooding offer the opportunity for stormwater management, a major concern of MWRD.

“We’ve already installed a rain garden,” Mr. Neumann said, “using plants to manage excess water. There are many places there that could be rain gardens, so we put one in to show how it could be done.”

Next Steps
The master plan is a dynamic document; feedback from the community is still welcomed, Mr. Neumann said.

“We’re reaching out to inform you and gather feedback,” Mr. Neumann told the audience of about 75 at the Feb. 13 meeting at the Civic Center. Anyone wishing to weigh in on the ecological master plan may send an email to

Suggestions will be evaluated and, where possible, implemented according to the ecological master plan, Mr. Neumann said.

The golf design process will begin soon and follow a similar planning process as the ecological subcommittee followed, Mr. Neumann told the RoundTable. “It will be a fresh start and all ideas will be considered as part of the process. As with the ecological master plan, we will engage the neighbors and the community during the process,” he said.

When the golf course redesign is completed, the two plans will be merged into the strategic plan for the second century of the place now called Canal Shores.