Park District puts brakes on floating inflatable water park at Montrose Beach

SHARE Park District puts brakes on floating inflatable water park at Montrose Beach
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Montrose Beach | Sun-Times file photo

The air has been let out of a proposal to create a giant floating water park on Montrose Beach.

The water park, to have been dubbed Aqua X Zone, would have incorporated modular inflatable “obstacles” similar to the Whoa Zone in Whiting, Indiana, which opened in 2017.

Plans for Aqua X Zone came to light over the Memorial Day weekend, when permit requests filed in mid-May — with the Army Corps of Engineers and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources — began to circulate online.

The prospect of bouncing, splashing, sliding and swinging on a waterborne playground had some residents thrilled, but the Park District quickly burst that bubble, at least in the near-term.

“Effective immediately, and going forward, the Park District will no longer consider an inflatable water park at Montrose Beach,” Raffi Sarrafian, chief administrative officer of the Park District, said in response to public feedback.

The Park District’s decision has birders and naturalists breathing a sigh of relief just as they were beginning to marshal forces against the water park.

Montrose Beach is home to a bird sanctuary and dunes that are a premier natural site, said Jill Niland, co-chairwoman of the Chicago Ornithological Society’s conservation committee.

Niland said she and other park advocates aren’t playing killjoy or NIMBY in wanting to manage the amount of activity at Montrose. “There’s just so much commercialization and use one small area can take,” she said.

People seeking more passive recreation, like simply taking a walk, are being crowded out, she said. “It’s so hard to get in and out of Montrose,” Niland said. “Our lakefront is good for something besides entertainment.”

Others are concerned about the lack of public process surrounding the water park proposal.

Ald. James Cappleman, whose 46th Ward includes Montrose Beach, tweeted that he heard of the plan at the same time as his constituents.

The timing left organizations scrambling to assess the proposal and develop a response.

Juanita Irizarry, executive director of Friends of the Parks, said she returned to her office after the long holiday weekend to a flood of voice messages and emails from people “freaking out” over news of the water park.

“[The Park District] certainly did not mention this to us,” said Irizarry, noting that Friends of the Parks and the Park District meet monthly. “Unfortunately what seems to be the normal process is to try to do things as quickly as possible under the radar.”

A water park consisting of dozens of giant plastic inflatables, requiring the placement of scores of temporary anchors in the lake bed, should be rigorously reviewed and thought through well, she said.

While the water park proposal has been shelved for 2018,Jessica Maxey-Faulkner, director of Communications for the Chicago Park District, said: “The proposal can be considered in the future at any Chicago area beach. Should this be submitted again, the Chicago Park District would solicit community input, as is customary.”

The Park District’s position raises questions including how overpopulated the lakefront can get and whether continued privatization of the lakefront is desirable, Irizarry said.

The city’s current administration “sees our parks and beaches as revenue generators above all else,” Irizarry said.

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