Diving dispute: Park district says it floated permit requirement by Friday Morning Swim Club

Organizers of the hugely popular club that attracts thousands to Montrose Harbor every Friday previously said they hadn’t heard anything from the park district.

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A person jumps in to Lake Michigan at Montrose Harbor during the tenth week of Friday Morning Swim Club on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023 in Chicago.

A person jumps in to Lake Michigan at Montrose Harbor during the tenth week of Friday Morning Swim Club on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023 in Chicago. | Owen Ziliak/Sun-Times

Owen Ziliak/Sun-Times

Chicago Park District officials now say they approached organizers of a popular weekly swim club about getting the event permitted — but never heard back from the group.

In a Friday email to the Sun-Times, a park district spokesperson said the district reached out to the organizers of Friday Morning Swim Club earlier this summer to “explain that a Permit must be submitted to host the event,” but organizers never did.

The park district said it reached out to organizers via their website’s “contact” page on July 19 about applying for a permit. On July 21, the district said event organizers called the permits office and provided them with an email address to send the permit to, but never received an application.

Organizers, though, previously told the Sun-Times the park district never contacted them.

Nicole Novotny, the club’s co-founder, said they had previously looked into getting a permit but didn’t apply for one since the harbor where the club takes place isn’t listed in the permit application.

Thousands swim in Lake Michigan during Friday Morning Swim Club at Montrose Harbor on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023.

Thousands swim in Lake Michigan during Friday Morning Swim Club at Montrose Harbor on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023.

Owen Ziliak/Sun-Times

The park district told the Sun-Times each request is reviewed on a “case-by-case” basis and if the area requested in the permit isn’t available, they work with organizers “to identify other locations that might work for their proposed activities.”

On Friday, Novotny said organizers have “recently been in contact with the Park District and welcome the opportunity to work with them and the City.”

The Park District didn’t respond to further questions asking if collaboration with the club was in the works. It previously wouldn’t answer questions about the group directly, although it did issue a statement noting that swimming in off hours and using floatation devices are not permitted.

The club started in 2021 with just a few friends meeting at Montrose Harbor every Friday morning around 7 a.m. for a dip in the lake. Now, thanks to some viral social media posts, the group attracts thousands of swimmers every week.

But the club is breaking almost every rule the park district has about swimming — and getting away with it.

The swim club takes place hours before swimming is allowed — and in an area that regularly attracts swimmers but is never patrolled by lifeguards, making it a non-permitted swimming area. Blow-up floats, which are prohibited by the park district, are a staple.

Lifeguards and water safety experts have brought up safety concerns about the club, including swimmers’ reliance on unapproved floatation devices and the lack of lifeguards.

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