River restoration project

Tree fallen in river because of erosion.
Erosion along the East Branch of the DuPage River has caused this tree to fall into the waterway. (c) The Morton Arboretum 2015. All rights reserved.


A healthier river and protection for trees

The East Branch of the DuPage River flows through the heart of The Morton Arboretum. To improve the environmental health and biodiversity of the river and to safeguard important tree collections, the Arboretum and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are at work on a river restoration project that started in fall of 2015.


The project will:

  • Stabilize the river banks
  • Protect the Arboretum’s important tree collections
  • Improve water quality
  • Replace non-native turf grass with native grasses, sedges, and wildflowers
  • Create better habitat for birds, fish, and other wildlife
  • Remove invasive species of trees, shrubs, and other plants
  • Improve opportunities for birdwatching and other recreation 

Reshaping the river banks

The work will take place along 1.5 miles of river in the Arboretum. It involves re-grading the artificially steep, badly eroded banks to give them a gentle slope. Invasive plants that choked the old river banks will be removed, and the new sloping banks will be planted with a variety of native trees, grasses, wildflowers, and other plants.

A healthier ecosystem

The sloped banks and new plantings will create a more natural river’s edge that is home to a greater variety of birds, butterflies, and other wildlife. In the river itself, boulders and other features will break up the water’s flow, creating eddies in the water and nooks and crannies where fish, crayfish, and other animals can live and breed.

Preventing erosion

In addition to improving the river ecosystem, the project will safeguard the Arboretum’s globally important tree collections from further erosion. Over the past several decades, water rushing down the artificially straightened river has scoured the soil from around tree roots, causing some trees to fall into the river and endangering many more. The newly created habitat areas will be a buffer to protect the Arboretum’s Living Collections from erosion by river waters.

First steps

Some trees will be removed from the restoration area. The majority are invasive species that were not planted on purpose. Once the river banks are reshaped, about 850 new trees and shrubs will be added, along with thousands of other plants, including grasses, wildflowers, sedges, and water plants. We also have transplanted a number of smaller trees elsewhere in the Arboretum. We are propagating new trees and other plants that are valuable to our collections from cuttings. Once they are large enough, we will plant them elsewhere in our collections. 

The majority of the project—tree removal, re-grading, adding features to the river bed, and replanting—will be completed in the first 12 to 18 months. Over the next few years, the plants will grow, and a greater diversity of plant and animal species will develop in the water and along the banks.


The cost of this project is approximately $5 million, with the majority funded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 

Project updates

Watch this page for project updates. Learn about the planting phase of our river restoration project

Frequently Asked Questions

Get answers to frequently asked river restoration questions. Learn more