Nature Sanctuary needs a new vision


To the Editor:

Ald. Hairston’s recent remarks that the South Shore Nature Sanctuary was dead, that it had been dead for years, and that it was dead because no one cared for it are not the only untruths that she has uttered concerning the Tiger Woods Golf Course proposal lately.

At the June meeting for the 5th Ward meeting, after a 10-minute or so of discussion about the proposed golf course, Hairston said, “Why wouldn’t anyone want this golf course? Don’t we deserve a pro golf course like the ones the North Side gets?”

I did some quick fact checking. The Chicago Park District has no pro golf courses on the North Side.  I’m quite sure that the aldermen on Chicago’s North Side don’t feel compelled to parcel out their parks, privatize them, and then turn them into a cash cow for tourists just to get them upgraded and better maintained by the Chicago Park District. It would be true equity if we, on the South Side did not have to do this either.  The South Shore Nature Sanctuary is alive and well largely because the South Shore Park Advisory Council continuously advocates for its maintenance, because eight South Shore residents completed hours of volunteer stewardship training (my life partner was one of them), and because around three dozen volunteers take turns maintaining it via regular work parties.

What bothers me most about this is not only the falsehoods that have been told, but the lack of vision. Not that long ago, the Chicago Park District wanted to raze the South Shore Country Club. It was the residents who had the vision that the country club could be re-purposed into the South Shore Cultural Center. The South Shore Nature Sanctuary has not been marketed and is poorly signed with no designated, ADA accessible trail that leads to it, yet many residents value it as place of respite, not only for the butterflies, but for our souls. If the sanctuary is “dead” than this place must be a little slice of heaven.

With a little bit of vision, however, the South Shore Nature Sanctuary could become a destination. What if a permanent nature center could be installed inside the South Shore Cultural Center? What if it was marketed to every neighborhood school, every magnet school, every charter school, and every private school on Chicago’s South Side?

Nature therapy today is what the profession of Art Therapy was 20 years ago. Studies have shown that being out in nature reduces symptoms of depression, anxiety, and aids in impulse control. When guided by a trained nature therapist the impact is even more profound. There is a correlation between violence reduction and exposure to nature. What if a nature therapy program were established utilizing the South Shore Nature Sanctuary with some office space inside the South Shore Cultural Center?

What about a partnership with the Open Lands organization to create a youth summer job program maintaining the South Shore Nature Sanctuary? What about a partnership with the Chicago Horse Patrol, with the stable already on the site, and with the Broken Arrow Riding Club (which will likely be displaced if the Tiger Woods Golf Course is developed) to teach horse husbandry to middle school children? What if dog obedience classes were formally offered at the Jackson Bark Dog Park (also to be displaced by the Tiger Woods plan), maybe even a dog show? More ideas abound on how we can better use the park amenities that we already have. These ideas cost a lot less than a pro golf course and no streets in Jackson Park would have to be closed to create them!

We don’t want to destroy or replace the golf courses that are already there and we support the existing Young Caddie Program. But we want more than just golf, we want our parks to be resident-focused, and we don’t want to be forced to sacrifice what we already have. What we need is equity and for a Chicago Park District that is responsive all residents, no matter where we live or what color we are.

Anne Holcomb

Environment, Transportation, Health and Open Space organization