State of the Beach/State Reports/IL/Beach Description

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Illinois Ratings
Indicator Type Information Status
Beach Access76
Water Quality65
Beach Erosion6-
Erosion Response-3
Beach Fill6-
Shoreline Structures7 3
Beach Ecology1-
Surfing Areas35
Coastal Development{{{19}}}{{{20}}}
Sea Level Rise{{{21}}}{{{22}}}


The Illinois coast extends along 63 miles (101 km) of the southern-most reach of the western shore of Lake Michigan. The coast is the major physical feature of the greater Chicago metropolitan statistical area which in the 2000 census had a population of nearly 9.1 million people (U.S. Census Bureau 2003). This is the third largest metropolitan area in the nation and the most densely populated coastal area in the Great Lakes Region. No other coastal area in the Great Lakes has been urbanized and engineered to the degree that has occurred along the Illinois coast. In addition, the glacial processes that shaped all of the Great Lakes Region made the landscape of coastal Illinois particularly noteworthy. Near the western limits of Chicago is a unique and natural-occurring waterway passage between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River system. Nowhere else on the North American continent does a comparable passage occur between these two continental-scale watersheds.


The land bordering the Illinois coast has varied landscape characteristics that allow division into three geomorphic settings. These three settings have different coastal management challenges and opportunities.

Zion Beach-ridge Plain

From the Illinois-Wisconsin state line south to North Chicago, the land bordering the shore is a low-lying plain at most 10 to 15 feet (3 to 4.5 m) above mean lake level. Much of the southern plain in the vicinity of Waukegan Harbor has been altered for port and industrial land use. However, Illinois Beach State Park preserves the natural setting of undulating sand ridges and swales. The plain is up to one mile wide (1.6 km) at Zion.

Bluff Coast

Along the coast between North Chicago and Winnetka, the lakeshore intercepts the Zion City and Highland Park Moraines. Long-term wave erosion along this morainal upland has resulted in bluffs that form the highest and steepest landscape along the Illinois coast. Maximum bluff heights of about 90 feet (27 m) occur along the southern Highland Park lakeshore. The bluff slopes range from near vertical to about 45 degrees. Many segments of the bluff slope have been graded for erosion control. A discontinuous bluff face results from a series of steep-sided, V-shaped ravines that open to the lakeshore. These ravines originate as much as one mile inland from the shore and typically have intermittent streams that discharge to the lake.

Chicago Lake Plain

From Winnetka south to the Illinois-Indiana state line is an extensive plain that was totally or partially submerged in the recent geologic past. This submergence occurred during a series of phases of high water-level of ancestral Lake Michigan and its predecessor glacial Lake Chicago. The name “Chicago lake plain” refers to all of the land area that corresponds to the maximum extent of submergence when lake level was as much as 60 feet (18 m) higher than the historical mean. Most of the City of Chicago occupies this plain. The plain continues into Indiana where it is known as the Calumet lake plain. The plain also has an outlying continuation across a narrow band of upland above the Zion beach-ridge plain.

Coastal Geology

Upland Sediments and Bedrock

The dominant material in the Illinois coastal zone is a compact, gray, silty and clayey till. The till may contain discontinuous layers of sand and gravelly sand. This till was deposited by glacial ice during the most recent (Wisconsin) glacial episode. The till is exposed along the coastal bluffs, as well as the material first encountered beneath most of the soils in the area. It also occurs beneath the beach and nearshore sand. The till has provided an exceptional foundation material along the coast for breakwaters and other shore structures.

The till directly overlies the underlying regional bedrock which is Silurian-age dolomite. The thickness of the till sequence above the bedrock is variable. In general, within the Illinois coastal area, the thickest till occurs in Lake County where thickness can be 300 to 400 feet (91 to 121 m). In Cook County, the thickness is generally no more than 100 feet (30 m).

Beach Sediments

Beach sediments along the Illinois coast consist of mixed sand and gravel. The primary source for the beach sediments was erosion of coastal bluffs. The low gradient of the two major rivers along the Illinois coast (Chicago and Calumet Rivers) prevented them from providing any significant sediment supply. Many of the beaches along the Chicago lakeshore are constructed beaches built with placed sand originally mined from the lake bottom off the western Indiana coast. Beach nourishment along erosion-prone beaches such as at Illinois Beach State Park has occurred, using import of sand from inland sand pits in western Lake County.

  • Fact 1: 63 miles of coast
  • Fact 2: Population of coastal counties - 5,898,137 (2010)
  • Fact 3: 48% of the state's population lives within coastal counties

Contact Info for the Lead Coastal Zone Management Agency

Website for the Illinois Coastal Management Program (CMP)

The CMP is part of the Department of Natural Resources Office of Water Resources

Key IDNR staff who assisted in developing the ICMP and preparing the necessary documents for program approval are:

  • Todd Main, Federal Consistency Coordinator
  • Diane Tecic, Coastal Program Manager
  • Rachel Sudimack, Green Marinas Program Coordinator

Coastal Management Program Office
Illinois Department of Natural Resources
Coastal Management Program Office
160 N. LaSalle Street, Suite S-700
Chicago, Illinois 60601

Diane Tecic, Program Manager


Duane Ambroz, Natural Resources Coordinator

Lisa Cotner, Natural Resources Specialist

Todd Main, Federal Consistency Coordinator

Ania Ruszaj, Natural Resources Coordinator

Rachel Sudimack, Green Marinas Program Coordinator

Coastal Zone Management Program

From 1974 through 1978, the State of Illinois received CZMA Section 305 Program Development Grants of over $1.7 million. In 2004 the State renewed efforts to gain approval for a Coastal Zone Management Program. This followed initial work, including a preliminary program draft, completed by the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Division of Water Resources several years ago. NOAA began working with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) in 2004 to identify and receive input from its various coastal constituents; articulate major issues the Coastal Program would address; determine a vision for the future of the Illinois shoreline and its communities; identify the authority the State has to manage coastal land and water development; and identify support from other state agencies and/or regional councils. In December 2010 Governor Pat Quinn signed an Executive Order to establish the Illinois Coastal Management Program (ICMP) within the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). Through the federally-funded program, Illinois will receive $2 million annually from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

IDNR is the state agency responsible for development and implementation of the Illinois Coastal Management Program (ICMP). The mission of the IDNR is to manage, protect, and sustain Illinois’ natural and cultural resources, further the public’s understanding and appreciation of those resources, and promote the education, science and public safety of our natural resources for present and future generations. The implementation of the ICMP will be conducted through existing State land and water resource authorities, within state and federal rules and regulations.

The IDNR’s and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency's (IEPA’s) statutory authorities and enforceable policies are both comprehensive and specific in regulating land and water uses, controlling development, and resolving conflicts among competing uses. These statutory authorities, together with other existing cooperative and coordinative linkages between the IDNR and the IEPA, comprise the basic jurisdictional framework which will ensure proper implementation of the ICMP policies.

The initial ICMP will consist of 5 full-time staff to effectively administer the ICMP Program. There are numerous ICMP administrative requirements such as ensuring state and federal consistency, developing the coastal NPS program, conducting TAC and CAG meetings, maintaining a website, and fulfilling numerous reporting requirements. The ICMP grants program will be a major work effort, involving grant workshops, project monitoring, and grant reporting.

The ICMP will utilize a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) to provide a forum for state agency input, consistency review, and coordination with other state or local agencies on projects or issues which could have an effect on land and water resources within the coastal zone. A Coastal Advisory Group (CAG) will provide a forum for broad public input on regional issues affecting Illinois’ Lake Michigan coastal resources and on the direction of the ICMP.

The IDNR Office of Water Resources (OWR) completed a draft ICMP document in September 2008. An internal review by the IDNR and the IEPA followed. In November 2008, the ICMP was revised to incorporate the comments received. In December 2008, the OWR submitted the draft ICMP document to the Coastal Programs Division in NOAA. NOAA reviewed the draft ICMP document during 2009 and submitted formal comments to the IDNR on December 31, 2009. The IDNR then made revisions to address NOAA’s comments and in meeting the requirements of the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972 and CZMA regulations. Following satisfactory completion of a revised ICMP draft, the IDNR requested comment and input from the Coastal Advisory Group (CAG), the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), and from relevant federal agencies. The IDNR then revised the ICMP document following submission of comments and input from the CAG, the TAC, and federal agencies. The revised ICMP was then submitted to NOAA for a determination as to its acceptance for the IDNR to conduct a public hearing.

On September 16, 2011, NOAA’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (OCRM) published a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the proposed Illinois Coastal Management Program in the Federal Register for a 45-day public comment period. The DEIS, which is required under the National Environmental Policy Act as part of OCRM’s review and potential approval of the ICMP, describes the state’s coastal management program and how it meets the requirements of the Coastal Zone Management Act.

Here is a link to the ICMP Program Document (updated 11/3/2011) and the final EIS. The ICMP Document was utilized to provide much of the information in the various "beach indicator" sections of this report.

State of the Beach Report: Illinois
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