Though the name “Gully Walkers” vaguely suggests a band of restless apparitions or the title of a Disney movie, it’s really Friends of the Chicago River’s newest volunteer opportunity, and a unique way to care for the forest preserves and the Chicago River at the same time.
Gullies are small-scale canyons—ditches, for the less poetic—carved into soil by water traveling downhill. Some gullies are natural and eventually form valleys, canyons, ravines and other formations. However, in our hardened urban landscape, where buildings and pavement prevent water from being absorbed into the ground, an unnaturally high volume of water runs into the forest preserves from many adjoining properties, often concentrated by pipes, to create damaging gullies. These gullies can carry sediment and polluted surface water on a fast-track into the river, without the benefit of being filtered through the ground first.
With Gully Walker trainings beginning this past fall, a new group of volunteers are now patrolling the Cook County forest preserves along the Chicago River, searching for developing gullies. “This is a great way to get excited about citizen science, and to get out to the river on a regular basis,” says Betsy Hands, Friends’ Director of Outreach and Community Relations. “Volunteers choose their own time and schedule, and most of the job is as simple as taking a stroll through the woods.”