Chicago Friday Morning Swim Club is canceled after dispute with park district

Organizers of the popular meetup at Montrose Harbor said they were calling off the swims after police showed up at last week’s ‘unofficial’ gathering.

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Lake Michigan Montrose Harbor Friday Morning Swim Club swimmer jump floats

People jump into Lake Michigan at Montrose Harbor during a Friday Morning Swim Club meetup Aug. 4.

Owen Ziliak/Sun-Times

Days after hundreds showed up to an “unofficial” version of the popular Friday Morning Swim Club at Montrose Harbor, organizers announced Tuesday there will be no more official dips this summer season.

“We will not host any additional swims this summer due to last Friday’s events and the complex communication that is happening between the Chicago Park District and the city,” organizers said in a video posted Tuesday on the club’s Instagram account.

The group will instead host other free events throughout the rest of the season, which they said would be announced later.

“What happened last Friday isn’t what we envisioned for swim club, ever,” organizer Andrew Glatt said in the video.

Police were called Friday to the 4400 block of North DuSable Lake Shore Drive and found the group was “gathered peacefully,” but officers remained to monitor.

Glatt said he and co-founder Nicole Novotny were told there were “multiple park district employees, CPD officers seeking out people specifically with swim club gear threatening to arrest them, or myself and Nicole had we been there.”

The Chicago Park District didn’t respond to questions about officers’ handling of the Aug. 25 event. The Chicago Police Department didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

A park district spokesperson said Tuesday that a permit application still hadn’t been submitted for the event, “nor has any intention to do so been made clear by the organizers.”

“The Park District works with promoters to try to issue permits that meet the goals of the promoters but that do not pose a threat to the safety of event participants and allow an appropriate and responsible use of public property,” the park district said in a statement. “The first step in initiating the permit process is to submit an application.”

Park district officials previously said they approached organizers of the swim club about getting the event permitted in July but never heard back from them.

Novotny previously said organizers looked into getting a permit but didn’t apply for one because the harbor where the club takes place isn’t listed in the permit application.

Sierra Lewis, 25, said she had been to the morning event about 10 times. When she showed up to the unofficial Aug. 25 swim, she said the mood was “eerie.”

She spotted a security vehicle as she made her way over to the harbor, where police officers were stationed. When she and her friends eventually jumped in, she said they only stayed in the water for about five minutes.

“We just weren’t feeling like it was a good place to be; it felt kind of like something might happen, and of course, nothing did, luckily,” Lewis said. “It was just very different, a lot more feeling like you have eyes on you, and you’re doing something wrong.”

Lewis said she and her friends jumped a bit farther north from where the main group was gathered Friday, and officers didn’t approach her.

Friday Morning Swim Club started in 2021 as eight friends meeting up at Montrose Harbor every Friday morning to swim and catch up before the weekend. That summer, the club grew to around 700 people through word of mouth.

During the 2023 season, the club attracted over 3,000 swimmers each Friday, thanks in part to viral videos of the meet-up on social media. Mayor Brandon Johnson and the city’s tourism agency shouted out the club in now-deleted posts.

Lifeguards and water safety experts have expressed concerns about the club, which meets in an area that isn’t monitored by lifeguards and relies on unapproved floatation devices that have been banned by the park district.

Lewis said she hopes the club can return next season with more of an emphasis on safety.

“I think the community the organizers created is really beautiful, and I would love to see that continued in some way, shape or form,” Lewis said.

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