To the Editor:
With the election of the first African-American female Mayor of Chicago there have been multiple letters to the editor, blogs, and Facebook posts implying that park leadership was mismanaging the parks and needed to be dealt with.
Because several of these statements were untrue or misleading, either intentionally or by mistake and involve our park volunteers, parents, players and coaches, they need to be corrected here before the misinformation spreads.
- The Jackson Park multisport artificial turf football field has been replaced by a soccer field.” Not true. The multisport artificial turf field is used seasonally by the local high schools and Park District teams for football, rugby, soccer and track and field.
- “The American Youth Soccer Organization asked to change the multisport football field to a soccer field for AYSO use.” Not true. AYSO pays rental fees to the Park District (and has for 31 years) for the old grass soccer fields that AYSO shares with the Pan African League, Hispano League, Hyde Park High School and South Side Fire, and several elementary school teams. AYSO intentionally doesn’t play on the artificial turf field so that it remains available for use by the local High Schools and Park District teams for games. But, AYSO parent volunteers clean, repair, fill holes, mark, and care for these old grass sports fields and picnic sites. We work to preserve them for use by our diverse community teams and as picnic and community special events and concert fields. This is our service to our community. We support all the sports using Jackson Park.
- “Community had no input in planning the current artificial turf field.” Not true. The field was a gift from donors including the Chicago Bears and was dedicated by the Bears owners, the McCaskey family. The field was designed in consultation with the many volunteer Jackson Park coaches of the football, track and field, and soccer teams. This was followed by multiple open community input meetings at the Fieldhouse. There was absolutely no conflict of interest for our football, track and field, and soccer coaches putting together the field plan with the field architects. The resulting plan was the product of many hours volunteering, coaching, listening and sharing ideas gathered from coaches, parents, and players in the park. Simple logic — those coaches who participate are more likely to have their voice heard and visions realized than those who lag behind only to complain. The artificial turf field was critical to competitive high school team play in Jackson Park because it allowed teams to play games safely when rain and the high lakefront water table transformed the grass fields into a waterlogged, muddy, unplayable marsh.
- “There is a soccer pitch only and no football field on the new unconstructed artificial turf field.” Not true. The new field, whose construction was halted immediately after the concrete base was poured, is not completed. The new field was designed in consultation with the Jackson Park football, track and field, and soccer coaches and their players. The new field will be a multipurpose surface that will mirror the current facility but upgraded to regulation standards for football, rugby, track and field, cheerleading and soccer competition at the high school level.
- “Park District is charging rental fees for leagues and teams using sports fields, picnic groves, and event spaces.” True. There is a permit rental fee charged for teams, leagues, and groups using sports fields, picnic, and event spaces. That is how the Park District is able to fund its programs. This is good management. If local school teams, church leagues, youth and adult sports leagues, police leagues, urban and ethnic leagues want space to play, they must pay the permit fees to the Park District and the Forest Preserve. These leagues enable more of our youth to get off the streets and be part of positive team sports. Those permit fees provide the funds for operating the Park District programs such as Night Out in the Parks, concerts in the park, senior sports like pickleball, Senior Olympics and Special Olympics. In addition, the Chicago Park District is the largest summer employer of teens in Chicago and those permit rental fees paid by community groups, leagues and events help pay for these summer youth jobs.
- “There is no community input in the park.” Not true. This month JPAC had 500 volunteers from our communities, the University, the South Side, and international volunteers. Volunteers cleaned the debris from our lagoons and trash from the beaches, taught kids about our vital Jackson Park Migratory Bird Flyway, planted new native species, chipped and raked our playgrounds, re-chipped our natural area paths, removed the debris from our bike paths, and cleaned our fishing piers. Based on their actual work experiences in the park, our group just completed a group “Memo to the Mayor” about the needs of Jackson Park.
Team, thank you all for your selfless hours of volunteer park work. You are revitalizing our Jackson Park to be enjoyed not just by the vocal few but by our many diverse Jackson Park Highlands, South Shore, Woodlawn and Hyde Park community members.
Thank you all,
President, Jackson Park Advisory Council