Before and after gully fixing. Photo by Yesica Barrera.

Rainwater flows over the ground and towards the river or a low point in the land. This process is a totally natural part of the water cycle. Gullies are created and become a problem as excess stormwater runoff scoures a pathway to the river, erodes the land and washes it into the river. Gullies often become remarkably deep with little vegetation to hold the soil, especially in urban areas such as Chicago.

Increased sediment from erosion is detrimental to the river's water quality and to the plants and animals that live there. Friends of the Chicago River is working with the Forest Preserves of Cook County to address gullies and improve the health of the river.

The Benefits of Gully Fixing

By addressing gullies we prevent erosion, reduce stormwater runoff, retain water on the land for plants to utilize, recharge groundwater, create a safer landscape for people and animals, and respond to the impacts of increasingly intense storms caused by climate change. 

The Gullywalking Project

In 2012, Friends launched the Gullywalking Project, a gully identification effort to locate and classify gullies along the Chicago River system. For the next two years, volunteers walked over 45 miles along the Chicago River and the Calumet River banks to find and assess gullies. During this time volunteers identified 139 gullies and classified them by three levels of severity, including:

Level 1 Gullies: To be monitored for changes but no restoration is necessary.
Level 2 Gullies: Those that can be repaired with careful planning and volunteer assistance.
Level 3 Gullies: These require more dramatic interventions and partnership with the landowner, in this case the Forest Preserves of Cook County (FPCC). 

The Gullywalking Project produced the Gullywalking Report. Since then, we've worked closely with partners to prioritize and repair gullies. The data collected by gullywalkers helped determine restoration projects and address the destructive properties of gullies, helping us preserve and improve the Chicago River.

Gully Fixing & The Gully Guidance Manual

Photo by Yesica Barrera.

Since 2013 we've been repairing gullies with the help of skilled volunteers and contractors. Our experience led to the development of Friends' Gully Guidance Manual, combining what we learned about gullies and fixing them, with general guidance on how to address them locally so other stakeholders can help fix gullies too.

The manual has appendices, available for download here:

Appendix A: Illinois Joint Application Permit
Appendix B: USACE Sec. 404 Sample Permit Application
Appendix C: Gully Restoration Sample Plant List
Appendix D: Gullywalking Data Collection Form
Appendix E: 
Partner Agency Group Leader Description
Appendix F: Stewardship Workday Leader Description
Appendix G: FPCC Supply Order Form
Appendix H: Equipment Loaner Form

In addition to the manual, Friends' received two digital reports from consultants whose reports detail other gully-fixing approaches that complement our approach.

Kickapoo Woods Restoration Plan: Gully Recommendations by WRD Environmental
Kickapoo Woods Gully Restoration Report by Conservation Land Stewardship

We continue to address gullies in coordination with the forest preserves as the need arises.