One-Star Certified Pilot Project

Location: Lisle, Illinois
Project Size: 27.7 acres
Project Type: Open Space - Garden / Arboretum
Site Context: Suburban
Former Land Use: Greyfield
Terrestrial Biome: Temperate Broadleaf and Mixed Forests
Budget: $7.4 million
photo by: The Morton Arboretum staff

Project Overview

These two projects comprise 27 acres of The Morton Arboretum's 1700 total acres. The Meadow Lake restoration took a poor quality man-made retention lake with eroded banks and created a reshaped and regraded lake with water fluctuation measures, a ten-foot wide geoweb installed at the normal water level, soil amendments, and over 68,000 wetland plants. The Main Parking Lot project is adjacent to Meadow Lake and incorporates best management practices for managing stormwater and nonpoint source water pollution. The surface is a permeable concrete paver system. Below the pavers is a 4 -foot gravel bed that stores stormwater and slows its progress through the watershed. Water is also collected in bioswales in the parking lot. Plants within the bioswales biologically filter contaminates in the water, assisted by mechanical filtering through the gravel bed under the parking lot. The cleaner, slower-moving water enters Meadow Lake and eventually the East Branch of the DuPage River. A $1.2 million EPA grant provided partial support for this construction project. Both projects are showcased in our main visitor area and provide an educational opportunity for the Arboretum's many visitors.

Regional Context

This site is located in the west suburbs of Chicago, IL in an area that was settled in the mid 1800s. The Arboretum grounds were established in 1922. The 1700-acre property has the East Branch of the DuPage River running through it. Original Government Land Office survey records made during the 1830s were used to determine the characteristics of the vegetation prior to major European settlement. This survey showed four general plant community types: prairie, savanna, forest, and wetland. The most widespread arboreal community was savanna, dominated by bur oak, black oak, and white oak. Prairies tended to occupy flat to gently rolling topography, whereas savannas predominated in areas of rugged topography. Forests were commonly restricted to fire-protected sides of watercourses.

SITES Features + Practices

Permeable Pavers: The Main Parking Lot project had the first large scale, high profile permeable paver installation in the Midwest.

Bioswales: The project had some of the first bioswales used in the Midwest.

Wetland Restoration: The Meadow Lake restoration project was one of the first projects to implement extensive wetland plantings around a stormwater management feature for bio-filtration, native habitat, and wetland restoration. In a cross section of the lake edge, there are submergent, emergent, and wet mesic plant zones; this cross-section is often referred to as a littoral or riparian edge.

While these practices seem common nowadays, they were revolutionary at the time. The Morton Arboretum took risks in pursuing these features for their project and set an example that had a tremendous impact on how development is pursued in the region today. The staff and design team had a solid understanding of the reach the design features of this project would have, and the opportunities they had to influence local development practices. At the time when the project was getting started, the industry was abuzz with new ideas on sustainable design practices. The problem was that nobody was willing to risk being the first ones to try these untested ideas on their own projects. Manufacturers and suppliers didn’t have the incentive to mass produce the materials required to support the fledgling green movement. The local codes and ordinances also did not accommodate green construction practices, and nobody wanted to be the first to challenge the established rules and practices.


The Arboretum based the project on the opportunity to create a model demonstration project at an arboretum. The Morton Arboretum is a highly visible venue, with a growing public audience and the experience and capability to interpret and present environmental information to the public in an outdoor setting. One component of the project is to provide interpretive panels on the site to explain the environmental innovations that have been incorporated into the parking lot, and to provide information that would encourage others to consider adopting these approaches.

Funding for some of the environmental innovations of the parking lot was provided from the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. An EPA grant of $1.2 million provided partial support for the $3 million parking lot renovation.

The integrated design team worked well together to create a living and teaching example of a user-friendly green solution for parking and storm water management.

Maintenance + Stewardship

Established in 1922, The Morton Arboretum is a magnificent outdoor museum with a mission to collect and study trees, shrubs, and other plants from around the world, to display them across naturally beautiful landscapes for people to study and enjoy, and to learn how to grow them in ways that enhance our environment. Our goal is to encourage the planting and conservation of trees and other plants for a greener, healthier, and more beautiful world. The Arboretum ranks among the leading arboretums of the world in size, age, quality of specimens, and programs in Plant Collections, Research, and Education.

The site will continue to be monitored by Arboretum staff, who will measure water quality, runoff quantity over time, and evaluate the success of plant material along the edge of the lake and the bioswales in the parking lot.

The Arboretum hopes to be able to use the SITES project designation in many educational events and public relations announcements. Additionally, SITES principles are influencing the planning of future capital improvements to the 1700-acre arboretum grounds.

Site Challenges

The site offered the challenges of providing parking access for a growing Arboretum in an environmentally responsible way and cleaning up a poor quality man-made retention lake with eroded banks to provide cleaner water and a living example of a wetland edge to the lake. These two projects were done in conjunction with a major Arboretum capital improvement expansion, which resulted in our attendance increasing from 350,000 visitors per year to over 850,000 visitors per year.

Project Goals + Successes

Goals for Meadow Lake included improving the water quality, normalizing the lake level by isolating it from the surrounding water table, and stabilizing the embankments with well-rooted plants.

Goals for the parking lot project included replacing an inadequate asphalt parking lot with an environmentally sound solution that could provide better storm water and non point source pollution management, and providing an aesthetically pleasing educational opportunity for the region.

Key project successes include providing our visitors and many other visiting professionals with a successful example of best management practices used for a large parking lot and adjacent lake area within an arboretum setting.

Lessons Learned

This project highlighted the importance of documenting the construction process and has impacted the construction contracts for future Arboretum projects.

Project Team

The Morton Arboretum
Gerry Donnelly, CEO
Kris Bachtell, Head of Collections
Ralph Grieco, Capital Projects Manager
Scott Mehaffey, Landscape Architect

Conservation Design Forum
James Patchett, Principal
Thomas Price, Principal
Jay Womack, Project Manager

Montgomery Watson Harza (MWH)
W. James Marold, PE, Project manager
John P. Chitty, Principal Environmental Scientist
Peter T. Mulvaney, Wetland Biologist
Ken Bagstad, Wetland Botanist

Christopher B. Burke Engineering West Ltd.
John Wills
Andy Sikich, Project Manager
Pat Kelsey, Environmental

Tom Featherstone

Baetis Environmental Services
David Pott

Living Habitats
Heidi Natura

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