Beaches open for holiday weekend; Park District ‘optimistic’ about filling lifeguard staff

All 22 of Chicago’s beaches opened Friday. Beachgoers can now swim from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily through Labor Day.

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A lifeguard patrols the beach ahead of Memorial Day weekend at North Avenue Beach, Friday, May 26, 2023.

A lifeguard patrols the beach ahead of Memorial Day weekend at North Avenue Beach, Friday, May 26, 2023.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Sunny skies and chilly temperatures marked the first day of beach season in Chicago.

But the thermometer reading in the high 50s didn’t stop Lluvia Hernandez from running to dip her toes in the water at North Avenue Beach Friday morning.

Hernandez, a sophomore at Curie Metro High School, said the water felt warm and she planned to swim later.

All 22 of Chicago’s beaches opened Friday, and though the weather may have discouraged some swimmers, beachgoers like Hernandez hoping to jump in the water can swim from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. through Labor Day.

Lluvia Hernandez (left) and her friend Alysson Ruiz enjoyed a group beach trip to North Avenue Beach on Friday morning.

Lluvia Hernandez (left) and her friend Alysson Ruiz enjoy a trip to North Avenue Beach Friday morning.

Catherine Odom/Sun-Times

Last year, 12th Street Beach near Chicago’s Museum Campus was closed due to a shortage of lifeguards. Park District spokesperson Irene Tostado said that beach is open and she is “very optimistic” about filling the staff.

The Park District received around 1,500 lifeguard applications this year, Tostado said, about double the number received last year. A full staff is about 750 lifeguards, she said.

Right now, though, the lifeguards staffing beaches are returning guards, said Andy Walsh, the Park District’s manager of beaches and pools. Applicants still need to be vetted, and new guards will need to be trained and certified.

Jenna Keating is one of the returning guards. She has spent her summers since 2017 working as a lifeguard at North Avenue Beach, one of Chicago’s busiest.

North Avenue Beach on Friday.

Chicago beaches, including North Avenue Beach, opened Friday.

Catherine Odom/Sun-Times

She said her lifelong love for swimming and desire to keep people safe has kept her coming back year after year.

Antonio Durns, also a North Avenue Beach lifeguard, said it’s an “honor” to work at one of the most popular beaches in Chicago.

North Avenue Beach saw numerous groups of high schoolers and young adults like Hernandez and her friends on its opening day.

Though North Avenue Beach was not crowded Friday morning, groups dotted the shoreline, playing music, sharing food, laughing and sunbathing.

“It’s fun to be social out here,” said Alysson Ruiz, a junior at Curie.

Hernandez, who lives in the Archer Heights neighborhood, said she hopes to meet new friends at the beach.

Chicago public pools will open in late June. Last year, only 37 of Chicago’s 77 pools were open because of staffing shortages. Tostado said there was a national lifeguard shortage last year, but numbers seem to be rebounding.

It’s too soon to tell how many pools the Park District will be able to open this year, but Walsh said he is optimistic about being able to open them all.

Last year, the Park District introduced a $600 retention bonus for lifeguards to encourage applications. New incentives for lifeguards to join the staff this year include tickets to see the Chicago Fire play and day passes for Lollapalooza, Tostado said. The Park District will also pay for training and certifications for lifeguards.

To promote safety at Chicago beaches this summer, the Park District is introducing a beach safety ambassadors program. Thirty ambassadors will be posted at five of Chicago’s busiest beaches to enforce beach rules and help out with maintenance, among other duties.

The flag system remains in place at beaches, Tostado said. A red flag means beaches are closed to swimmers, and a green flag means a beach is open for swimming. A yellow flag encourages swimmers to use caution. Friday, the flag was yellow because of low water temperatures, Tostado said.

Kyle Murray, a member of the aquatics lead staff, reminded beachgoers to swim near a lifeguard.

“We’re here for your safety,” he said.

North Avenue Beach displayed a yellow flag, indicating swimmers should proceed with caution on the beach’s opening day, Friday, May 26, 2023.

North Avenue Beach displayed a yellow flag, indicating swimmers should proceed with caution on the beach’s opening day Friday.

Catherine Odom/Sun-Times

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