MITCHELL: Debate over South Shore Nature Sanctuary heats up
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Like most people, I enjoy a stroll in the park, and at least once a year my husband and I take a fishing trip.
But I consider myself blessed because every day I get to walk or drive with a view of Chicago’s magnificent lake.
I didn’t think it could get much better than that.
But it does.
I also live near a nature sanctuary that is located on the grounds of the South Shore Cultural Center.
The South Shore Nature Sanctuary is the best-kept secret in the city. I had lived in the neighborhood for a couple of years before I stumbled upon it.
But now the sanctuary is at the center of a controversy that could pit one group of community members against another group.
Plans to merge the Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses into a PGA-caliber golf course ignited a fierce debate after drawings of the proposed design showed the new golf course on top of the nature sanctuary.
Designs for the golf course were unveiled publicly last month by the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance.
“Originally we heard they would stay on the existing footprint and that they would have not displaced the nature sanctuary,” said Juanita Irizarry, executive director of Friends of the Parks.
“People did ask about it at that meeting, and the answer we heard that night and what we have heard from the park district is that they are thinking about moving the nature center someplace,” Irizarry said.
“It has been quite a bit of inconsistency. We have definitely expressed our concern publicly and to the park district that we are concerned about the nature sanctuary being moved,” she said.
Louise McCurry, President of the Jackson Park Advisory Council, dismissed the notion that the nature sanctuary would be bull-dozed to make way for the 12th hole.
“There are lots of folks putting out false rumors. There are lots of lies out there. Nothing is going away. We are not building a brick wall, not tearing down the Cultural Center. We are actually adding another nature center, as well as a family center and family mini-golf area. It is going to be much better and a place where an entire family can enjoy,” she said.
But not everyone in South Shore is clamoring for the chance to play on a PGA golf course.
“If you make [the nature center] a 12th hole of a fancy golf course, it will be exclusive,” pointed out Kathryn Sjursen, my neighbor and a gardening enthusiast.
“It would be a spectacular view of the city for the golfers, but you cannot walk off the street and have a haven. People from all over Chicago come to the nature sanctuary,” she said.
Frankly, the South Shore Cultural Center has offered a respite from the growing violence in this beautiful neighborhood, and people have a right to be wary of plans that could change that.
After all, longtime residents have all but abandoned the nearby Rainbow Beach — and for good reason.
On Sunday evening, three people were shot near the beach.
That’s reason enough for this project to be about more than the opportunity to build a PGA golf course on the South Side.
In my neighborhood, the peace and quiet of a nature sanctuary is something to be cherished.
Irizarry noted that the sanctuary provides an opportunity for native grasses to thrive, and for the birds to rest during migration.
“It may not get tons of human use, but that is part of the point. Parks are about recreation, but they are also about nature,” she said.
I’m sure there are other people like my neighbor who discovered this hidden gem long ago. Now is the time to speak up.
Without advocacy, this gem could become a victim of the “use it or lose it” principle, and that would be a great loss.
“The nature sanctuary is solace for every soul that wants to take a walk and be close to nature. It is not restricted to anybody,” Sjursen said.
That’s worth fighting for.
The next meeting on the golf course is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Thursday at the South Shore Cultural Center.