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Chicagoans enjoy reopened beaches for first time since 2019: ‘We’re happy’

City dwellers returned to reopened beaches this weekend for the first time in over a year as the city continues to loosen its coronavirus restrictions.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Chicagoans returned to the city’s beaches this weekend for the first time in more than a year as coronavirus restrictions continue to roll back.

On Wednesday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced that the city’s beaches would reopen for Memorial Day Weekend, marking the first time Chicago beaches have been open for public use since Sept. 2, 2019.

Putting a damper on the fun, however, was a shoreline water temperature in the mid-50s and a beach hazards statement issued by the National Weather Service warning of dangerously high waves, which forced many popular spots to be closed to swimming Friday and Saturday.

Still, several groups of people — many wearing jeans and sweatshirts — gathered Saturday at Montrose Beach to picnic in the sand and mingle with friends and family.

“I’m very excited,” said Kendall Knox, who took his 8 and 5-year-old sisters to the beach to play in the sand. “I’m looking forward to this summer when it warms up. I’ll probably be here at least a few times a week.”

A windsurfer rides a wave Saturday at Montrose Beach in the Uptown neighborhood.
A windsurfer rides a wave Saturday at Montrose Beach in the Uptown neighborhood.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Wind gusts of 25-30 mph prevented most people from getting in the water Saturday, including Knox’ little sister, Isabella, who was eager to jump into Lake Michigan for her first swim of the season. But the wind didn’t stop a 37-year-old kite surfer named Zbignev, who spent most of the afternoon with his friends shredding the choppy waves a few yards out from the shoreline.

“Today is a wonderful day,” said the Lithuanian expat, who now lives downtown.

Meanwhile, Jessica Gulbala and her boyfriend Zach Eckhart came to Montrose Beach from Logan Square to let their puppy, Charlie, run around in the sand for the first time since they adopted him.

“As you can see, he is enjoying himself,” Gulbala said. “It’s a little chilly, but it’s also nice because I’m not one to really love the heat, so ... it’s actually kind of nice for us because this is like the weather we love.”

Zach Eckhart (left) and his girlfriend Jessica Guballa pet their dog, Charlie, on Saturday at Montrose Beach in the Uptown neighborhood.
Zach Eckhart (left) and his girlfriend Jessica Guballa pet their dog, Charlie, on Saturday at Montrose Beach in the Uptown neighborhood.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Eckhart and Gulbala, who were celebrating their 5-year anniversary, said they’re eager to get back to feeling normal this summer.

“We’re happy,” Gulbala said. “[This] Memorial Day is kind of like a little celebration of a long holiday and also the long year that we’ve had. It’s even more exciting that everything’s starting to open back up with the start of this holiday, because it’s kind of almost like the start of summer, the start of new beginnings, per say, after COVID.”