People who take a walk along the wood chip and gravel path hugging the North Shore Channel likely come across the Grady Bird Sanctuary, a haven of nature.

Located in the Ladd Arboretum, between McCormick Boulevard and the channel and behind the Ecology Center, this sanctuary is home to a small fountain meant to look like a waterfall, with an interesting history.

Commissioned and funded by the Grady Family Foundation, the sanctuary was meant to be a comfortable home for birds and the fountain its water source.

The Ladd Arboretum was thought to be the ideal choice for the wildlife habitat, as it serves as an inner-city wooded environment, designed to protect native species.

“There was already interest in attracting wildlife, and in this case we were pretty interested in also attracting migrating birds and trying to create this stopover spot,” explained Charles Smith, a longtime member of the Ladd Arboretum board. “Also, we wanted to create a lot of nesting habitat for year round dwellers in the Arboretum.”

Smith was not involved in the original creation of the sanctuary and water source, but was a key resource later in the sanctuary’s history. “It was the goal to help the arboretum become a more sustainable habitat for wildlife in general.”

But after more than a decade, the fountain fell into disrepair, and stopped working altogether. While the sanctuary still functioned as a habitat for much of Evanston’s wildlife, the fountain had ceased to serve its purpose as a beautiful sight as well as a watering hole.

That’s when Smith, a landscape contractor, came into the picture. Commissioned and funded by the Grady Family Foundation, which continues to pay for the maintenance of the sanctuary, Smith completely redesigned and reconstructed the original fountain. After years of being inoperable, the water source was working again.

“[The original fountain] had ceased to function as a water source for birds, and much of the stonework and infrastructure had fallen apart,” Smith said. He added, “The idea was to replace it with something that was more attractive and functional.”

The renovations of the fountain extended beyond just ensuring the water was running. Smith and his team also focused on replacing surrounding plants with native ones that were beneficial to the birds.

The fountain as part of the landscape

In addition, the replacement fountain that Smith built was specifically designed to fit its surroundings. It looks more like a mini-waterfall, and that was the goal.

“The idea behind the design was to replicate a more natural setting,” explained Smith. “One of the most pleasing things about this kind of a water feature is the sound of the water running down over the rocks into the pool. So that is one of the parts of it – also to visually create something that would kind of replicate a natural water stream.”

The water that flows through the fountain is continually recycled. After reaching the reservoir at the bottom, the water is pumped back to the top, where it is filtered, then pulled by gravity down the rocks again.

The project to recreate the fountain only took a few weeks, but Smith faced some difficulties along the way, such as securing the source of electricity for the water pumps.

“There was no electricity to operate the water-circulating pumps. So we had to dig a trench from McCormick Boulevard and run various electric lines to the fountain site,” said Smith. “And that turned out to be one of the most expensive parts of the whole thing, to get electricity to site in order to operate the pumps that would circulate the water.”

Vandals cause new issues

The first update of the fountain served the Grady Bird Sanctuary’s purpose well, until children started to vandalize the water feature, Smith said. Without real barriers to protect it, this soon turned into a major problem.

“It wasn’t protected. And for a few years, no one bothered. And then all of a sudden some kids found it and started to vandalize it. And they vandalized it so bad that [officials] just had to turn it off,” explained Smith.

That is what prompted the current renovations of the fountain – making it more-vandal proof. Instead of having a ground level water reservoir, like a small pond, the new fountain will feature a below-ground reservoir, which makes it hard to throw objects into the water.

Though not overseeing this set of renovations, Smith said he agrees with the concept of the new, more protected fountain, but is worried that it will not be enough. “It’s a little more vandal-proof, but bad kids can find many ways to be bad. There’s just no doubt about it.”

The renovations on the water feature have been progressing over the past few weeks, and when they are done, Smith and many others hope that it will help the Grady Bird Sanctuary provide a habitat for local wildlife and a place for residents to enjoy as well.

“It’s something that provides a place where butterflies and birds can congregate and people can go there and see them and enjoy them,” said Smith, emphasizing the multiple uses of the sanctuary and fountain. “There’s a lot going on with the bird sanctuary, and it’s really a fantastic thing.”

Ethan Ravi

Ethan Ravi is a summer intern at the Evanston RoundTable.

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  1. This is wonderful and something that I was not aware existed, so will be sure to see it in operation.

    Perhaps to install security cameras to preclude the potential for vandalism and have it adopted by revolving middle and high school classes, remembering that no animal will poop in it’s cage!

  2. Charles Smith has donated so much time to the Grady Bird Sanctuary as well as other projects at the Ladd Arboretum and elsewhere in the city. He is to be commended for all his work. I hope that people enjoy the Sanctuary and keep an eye on it as they walk through the Arboretum. I also hope that parents will work with their children to appreciate nature and not destroy it.