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Chicago Park District to reopen the lakefront, play areas, swimming pools

The reopening plans are in response to sustained declines in COVID-19 positivity rates and cases.

People walk along the lakefront Tuesday afternoon, near a portion West Montrose Avenue east of Lake Shore Drive that had been closed since March amid fears of the coronavirus pandemic.
People walk along the lakefront Tuesday afternoon near Montrose Avenue, east of Lake Shore Drive, an area that has been closed since March amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

A Ruby-crowned kinglet — a tiny songbird — twittered on a nearby tree limb. Melting snow glistened in the sunlight. And Sheldon Zeidman, with a cigar jutting from his lips, delighted in the promise of a not-so-distant spring.

“It’s beautiful,” said the 80-year-old Edgewater resident, out for a stroll near Montrose Harbor Tuesday. “It’s great to have the sun out too. We haven’t seen the sun for a long time.”

Scores of people joined Zeidman in a lakefront pilgrimage Tuesday — drawn by the warm breezes, but also by Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s decision to re-open one of the city’s most treasured attractions.

Lightfoot said the decision to open up the lakefront is the culmination of a “conversation and a process” she’s been having for weeks and months with “aldermen whose wards touch the lakefront” and their constituents.

“This is something that really was really, kind of, generated organically from them,” the mayor said.

Lightfoot famously closed the lakefront along with its parks, trails and beaches during the early days of the pandemic. She argued then that stir-crazy Chicagoans could no longer be trusted not to gather in large groups when temperatures rose and sunshine lured them outside.

“We were in a very different place with the pandemic. We were concerned, genuinely, about the crowds that were gathering and that people were not adhering to the various warnings that were coming, not only from me, but from … our public health officials,” the mayor said Tuesday.

“What we’ve seen since that time is people understanding the moment that we are in.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot had ordered the lakefront closed in March.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot had ordered the lakefront closed in March.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

The mayor noted Chicago’s test positivity rate of 3.2% is now the lowest it has been “since the pandemic came to our shores.”

“My expectation and hope is that people will continue to do the good hard work that is necessary to protect themselves, their family members and neighbors and understand that the lake is a very important and precious resource that we have,” she said.

“What I’ve mostly heard is young kids who are excited that the playgrounds are gonna be officially opened. … The parking lots are open. The playgrounds will be opening. It’s still February in Chicago. There’s a lot of snow and ice. We do want people to be cautious. We don’t want anyone to put themselves at risk. But this is in anticipation of the spring and summer.”

The Park District is expected to begin opening public access points to parkland east of Lake Shore Drive as snow removal and cleanup from recent storms allow.

The district also said it is preparing more than 500 outdoor playgrounds and nature play spaces to reopen during the upcoming weeks. Indoor swimming pools will offer limited aquatics programming during its spring season.

“We are thrilled that lakefront, playgrounds and indoor aquatics programs can safely reopen,” Park District Supt. Michael Kelly was quoted as saying in a news release. “The district is busy preparing these facilities to open as soon as possible. Although these restrictions are being lifted, we must continue to be diligent with the safety protocols that have been instrumental in our progress.”

Janet Hill, 58, was out for a stroll at Montrose Harbor Tuesday with her friend, Jan Wilson, 67. Hill had mixed feelings about the re-opening. She worried about the inevitable return of the crowds.

“It was great for me this summer because I could bike here. With closing [the lakefront] down from cars, it was just a delightful summer ... ,” Hill said. “I’m kind of a little sad to see it open to the general public.”

People walk along the lakefront Tuesday near a portion West Montrose Avenue east of Lake Shore Drive that had been closed since March amid fears of the coronavirus pandemic. The Chicago Park District announced plans Tuesday to gradually reopen the city’s lakefront, playgrounds and indoor swimming pools in response to sustained declines in COVID-19 positivity rates and cases.
The Chicago Park District announced plans Tuesday to gradually reopen the city’s lakefront, playgrounds and indoor swimming pools.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times