To the Editor:
Last week I learned of local concern that the Jackson Park Golf Driving Range, constructed in 1978 near the site of the Nike Missile Base, was soon to be sacrificed to Project 120’s plan to convert the space into a spacious lawn. I also learned that beavers would soon be unwelcome facets of Jackson Park ecology. Never mind that, in 1978, when the golf driving range was about to become reality, concerned citizens sought the help of former alderman Leon Despres to prevent the Chicago Park District (CPD) from destroying much of the existing Bobolink Meadow. Documents, signed by Mr. Despres, were presented by a local resident to the chief lawyer of the CPD, temporarily halting bulldozers poised to tear up the precious land. Hyde Parkers, who chained themselves to driving range posts, were cut free by CPD employees, carted off to district police headquarters, and released at the request of Mr. Despres. Now, it seems, the driving range is a sacred cow – to be saved at all cost!
Beavers travel north along Lake Michigan’s shoreline from south lakeshore wilderness areas to seek out fresh stands of new and mature trees. They often settle in Jackson Park’s lagoons to build lodges and feed upon branches with their powerful teeth and jaws. CPD employees trap the creatures, take them back to forest preserves, knowing full well that many of them will return. Beavers are persistent. It seems, that in the eyes of some, they are sacred as well.
Thank you, Alderman Hairston, for arranging the community meeting about Jackson Park issues on June 1 at LaRabida Hospital, where more than 150 people braved a rainstorm to voice their concerns about Jackson Park’s future. Many came to voice concern about Project 120, an program perceived by many to threaten the very survival of the. CPD officials present included CEO Michael Kelly and Heather Gleason, Director of Planning and Construction. Robert Karr, President of Project 120, and other associated indiviiduals sought to quell fears that the park would be permanently changed. Alderman Hairston’s talents as a moderator – and clarifier — were notable.
Points made during presentations included the following:
- The Darrow Bridge, once restored, will NOT carry heavy vehicular traffic. (Community leaflets had indicated that it would become a major route between 59th Street and the east side of the park.) It would be for use by service vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians.
- The golf driving range will be relocated to a new area adjacent to the golf course.
- A pavilion, now a concept, not a definite plan, would occupy the space of two-and-one-half tennis courts. Its construction would not result in the loss of parking space. It should be noted that former Hyde Parker, Victoria Post Ranney, writes in her wonderful book, Olmsted in Chicago (Donnelley, 1972) that in his 1870 design of the “upper portion” of South Park (now Washington Park), Olmsted “planned a Pavilion, a large refectory building where meals would be served… Concerts would be held in front of the Pavilion … and the roof of the gallery toward the “Southopen Ground (presently the athletic fields) would serve as a grandstand for parades, exhibitions, and fireworks displays.” This shows, of course, that Olmsted was not averse to a pavilion and concomitant activities in his parks at all. For Olmsted, a major mission of urban parks was to advance the spirit of democracy among residents of all backgrounds. Parks were for human activity and involvement. Parks were places for meetings, discussions, campaigns, and social events. Parks were for people — people who can rejoice in space, beauty, and peace.
The Role of Project 120 in Jackson Park Planning.
Many folks are unaware that Project 120 is part of a collaborative effort involving the Chicago Park District and U. S. Army Corps of Engineers known as GLFER, Great Lakes Fisheries and Ecosystem Restoration. GLFER uses CPD and U.S. Government funds supplemented by private funds raised by Project 120. GLFER is committed to addressing park management issues in view of evolving urban needs and the inevitable climate changes foreseen for the 21st Century. Also, part of its duty is to inform and involve the public in all actions proposed or taken. Numerous meetings have been held to discuss all issues related to the project. Questions (that appeared on a Jackson Park Watch handout on May 29) about “how the Park District feels about…, “ or “what the Park District thinks about …” are specious and misleading. The three units making up GLFER are in total agreement. Project 120 is easier to say than GLFER, but it is NOT a defining term.
Project 120 has engaged the nation’s foremost expert on Frederick Law Olmsted, Patricia O’Donnell of Heritage Landscapes, LLC, for advice about park design. Working for GLFER is the outstanding young CPD ecologist, Lauren Umek, who analyzes and suggests the very best ecological practices for management of the special treasure that is Jackson Park.
We are so lucky.
Jackson Park Advisory Council
Washington Park Conservancy