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Lincoln Park's North Pond Could Get A 'Natural Playground' And Water Improvements

By Gwendolyn Purdom in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 26, 2016 5:00PM

The proposed woodland and creek near North Pond in Lincoln Park, rendering courtesy of the Lincoln Park Conservancy

It draws hundreds of thousands of birdwatchers, foodies, Chicago families and out-of-town visitors each year, but Lincoln Park's 130-year-old North Pond isn't in great shape.

At only between three and a half and four feet at its deepest point, the pond has a hard time supporting wildlife like it used to, and with so many people flocking to its shores annually, its erosion and exposed tree roots are only getting worse. Roughly 220 ventured out into the oppressive heat Thursday night to see what the Lincoln Park Conservancy is planning to do to address these North Pond problems, conservancy board president Susan Fargo said, and the group's approximately $12 million proposal for reviving the pond, which includes environmental upgrades and new natural features nearby, seemed to resonate.

"[The pond] is a really popular place and people are actually starting to love it to death," Fargo told us Monday. "We really need to do something now before it becomes an emergency situation."

The public meeting Thursday was the first glimpse the public got at the planned renovations the conservancy and Park District have been working on for about two years now. With its "science fair set-up," the event allowed attendees to ask conservancy staffers or contractors questions directly and also included larger presentations from figures such as the project's landscape architect Jacob Blue. The meeting also addressed two of the public's biggest concerns, Fargo said: the poor environmental state of the pond and the need for family-friendly activities nearby.

The conservancy has so far gotten the most positive feedback on plans to dredge and deepen the pond and add a nature-themed "playscape" that mixes traditional playground equipment like swings with more organic features like a willow tunnel, an archeological dig-style sandbox and a slide built into a hillside. The new playground, along with other new natural features like a woodland with a creek to the east of the pond and a new meadow, are intended to diffuse foot traffic on the already worn down North Pond shores.

"We think that by doing this, we’ll be really taking the stress off the edge of the pond in a permanent way," Fargo said.

Funding for the North Pond project will largely come from private donors, Fargo said, though the conservancy will also be kicking off a major capital campaign soon. Another public meeting is tentatively planned for late summer or early fall.

In the meantime, Fargo and her team are hoping the public weighs in on what they would like to see in the pond's future.

"It's important to us that people share how they use the pond and what’s important to them," she said. "Those are the things we want to know about."