20 For 20 Retrospective

Coffee Creek Watershed Preserve




The Coffee Creek Watershed Preserve is the centerpiece of a visionary planned community that integrates leading-edge walkable mixed-use urban design with ecologically restorative development techniques. The master plan was originally conceived as an innovative model for an alternative to conventional sprawl, and as a way to attract long-term economic investment and interest in the region.


CDF was part of a team of nationally recognized experts that were engaged to design a plan for a 640-acre neo-traditional community that included up to 2,000 residential units and over 3 million square feet of commercial, office and retail space. While mostly agricultural land, CDF discovered a wealth of natural resources in the creek corridor, and helped guide the planning effort to protect and restore this central park space as a signature element of the plan.


The project was showcased as one of the world's 26 most innovative master-planned communities in the Urban Land Institute (ULI) book Great Planned Communities because of its innovation and scope that provide solutions to the most pressing issues associated with growth. The sustainable design and environmental principles such as constructed wetland wastewater treatment, innovative hydrology solutions for stormwater treatment, prairie and creek restoration and wetland mitigation, have since been featured in numerous publications. 


CDF developed a pioneering, community-scale application of green infrastructure to effectively replicate infiltration-based natural hydrology in support of the ecological restoration of the creek and associated remnant woodlands and wetlands. An advanced system of flow spreaders, cistern storage, and bioswales slow, cool and cleanse rainwater as steady base flow for the creek, while greatly improving efficient urban design by eliminating the need for surface detention.


CDF designed the miles of trails and boardwalks, overlooks, pavilions, and other features in the Watershed Preserve to capitalize on the restored creek and landscapes, and connect residents to an authentic natural setting just a short walk from homes, workplaces, and shops.

Park features of interest include:
1. Amphitheater
2. Wetland Cell
3. Green-roofed Restrooms
4. The Pavilion
5. Walter Plaza
6. Phillips Pond
7. Weir Bridge
8. Level Spreaders
9. Creek Overlook
10. Boardwalk
11. Trellis Overlook
12. Trail System


While most of the planned community development has not been realized, the Watershed Preserve was completed and is now enjoyed by local residents and visitors to the Indiana Dunes region. The large-scale landscape restoration features approximately 500 species of plants that provide habitat for migrating birds and other wildlife, and is stewarded with controlled burning and other management practices that improve its biodiversity and health. The preserve is a destination venue for events, gatherings, and festivals. The preserve attracts hikers, bikers, runners, nature enthusiasts and photographers from the Chicago, northern Indiana, and southwest Michigan corridor making this one of the most photographed sites in the area.


Size: 167 acres (within 640 acre overall development) – Includes 50 acres of new native landscapes created (primarily prairie); 300,000 native plugs planted; 90-acres of riparian forest restored
Completion: 2001
Construction Budget: $3 million
Recognition: 2001 IL-ASLA Award of Merit; 2003 Conservation and Native Landscape Award from U.S. EPA and Chicago Wilderness; features in Time Magazine, Conservation Voices, Crain's Chicago Business, Metropolitan Home, House Beautiful

Project Team: Conservation Design Forum – Ecological restoration planning and design, landscape architecture, sustainable site guidelines
William McDonough + Partners – Project lead, architecture and urban design, green building guidelines
Howard Engineers – Civil Engineering, permitting
JFNew (now Cardno JFNew) – ecological restoration, permitting
Lake Erie Land Company – developer



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