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Facing Park District Plans To Close Humboldt Park Beach Permanently, Riot Fest Pledges $30K

By Rachel Cromidas in News on May 14, 2015 4:30PM

The Park District is not opening Humboldt Park Beach this spring and officials say they don’t want to open it this year at all.

Humboldt Park has long hosted the city’s only inland beach—a stretch of sand flanked by a field house by the West Side park’s shallow lagoon. But in recent years, the city’s park district has struggled to prepare the beach in time top open for Memorial Day weekend, the usual kick-off of beach season, or fund the effort it takes to keep the manmade lagoon filled with water.

In a packed community meeting Monday night and in statements to reporters, park district officials cited the environmental and cost concerns behind the decision.

"Operating this amenity requires constantly pumping water into the beach—a financially unsustainable and environmentally-unfriendly practice," Jessica Maxey-Faulkner, a park district spokeswoman, said in an email to Chicagoist.

Because the beach is manmade, each year the city must refill the lagoon with water and continue to refill it throughout beach season to prevent stagnant water and keep harmful bacteria at bay. But some view the effort, which costs the city an average of $10,500 a day during beach season, as environmentally wasteful.

An online petition to keep the beach open has been signed by about 1,500 people as of Thursday morning. And Wednesday afternoon the organizers of Riot Fest, a three-day music festival that has called Humboldt Park home, pledged $30,000 to the effort to keep the beach open.

Riot Fest has been locked in a heated conflict with a local alderman over whether the fest will be allowed to return to Humboldt Park this year, and this pledge could win favor from community members and the alderman’s office.

The lagoon would cost the city about $1 million to fill and maintain this year, according to Maxey-Faulkner. Instead of paying that price for Humboldt Park Beach, she said the Park District would prefer to work with community members to find an alternative use for the money.

“Possible alternatives include new spray play areas, restoration of historic landscapes, wetlands and natural areas, or other non-water park improvements, such as a soccer field,” she said. “These solutions would conserve water and could help to reduce storm water runoff.”

She also noted that the Park District already operates a public pool just a block from the park.

Members of the Humboldt Park Advisory Council have expressed deep disappointment over the news, saying the Park District sprung this on community members just weeks before the beaches were expected to open:

“I’m formally disappointed and disgusted at the way this decision has been given to us," said Humboldt Park Advisory Council President Amy Vega, noting that while the beach has been in danger for at least two years, park district officials told them nothing until Monday — when it seemed the decision had already been made.