WEST RIDGE — A planned 20-acre nature preserve on the North Side would include kayak launches, fishing holes and lookouts along a meandering asphalt path that encircles a pond at the western edge of the Rosehill Cemetery, under a proposal announced by the Chicago Park District.
Proposed recreation activities near the corner of Western and Peterson avenues didn't please all neighbors at a Monday night meeting hosted by Ald. Pat O'Connor (40th) to go over the designs.
"When did this morph from a nature preserve to an entertainment venue?" asked one concerned resident. "Why would you allow fishing?"
Other neighbors had concerns that the path surrounding the lake and the human presence on the property that has long been private property would disturb bird, fish, fox and coyote habitats.
The proposed design also calls for the removal of invasive brush and tree species. Trees that pose a danger of falling would also be removed.
The former Rosehill Cemetery land was purchased by the city in 2011 for $7.7 million, the biggest acquisition of land by the city in decades, O'Connor said.
The park is also on Mayor Rahm Emanuel's radar. During his first term as a congressman, he earmarked federal transportation money for the project, said O'Connor. Emanuel, the day after being sworn in as mayor, called O'Connor to check on the status of the deal with Rosehill, the alderman said.
Bob Foster, with the Chicago Park District, said at the meeting construction is expected to begin next spring and conclude by the end of 2014.
The proposal includes four lookout points, an asphalt path, a canoe and kayak launch and two designated fishing stations along the shore of the pond.
Andrew Strand, co-founder of neighborhood group Friends of West Edgewater Park, said the park would rejuvenate the neighborhood.
Andy Dane, who works in an office on Western across the street from the future sight of the preserve, said speeding motorists and a lack of traffic signals on the busy street create a "death trap" for pedestrians.
Under the current site plans, the only two entrances to the park would be at Thorndale and Ardmore avenues. A representative of the Chicago Department of Transportation said the crosswalks would be "redone," but no stop signs or traffic lights would be installed.
The alderman, who grew up in the neighborhood, said the property has always been marred by controversy. In the past, Rosehill had wanted to sell the property to big box stores, such as Jewel or Home Depot, for development, he said.
A portion of the property also could be an American Indian archeological site. The park district said it was working with the Illinois State Archeological Society to determine which areas would need to be avoided.
O'Connor said the southwest portion of the property still owned by the cemetery could be developed as a senior home.
He also said the park district would be forming a park advisory board to help decide how the proposal might be tweaked. Future meetings would be planned for community involvement, he said.
"Everybody in my family learned to drive in there," said O'Connor about Rosehill. "All of my kids learned to drive in there."
As a kid, he said, "we went in and fished. This cemetery is an integral part of our neighborhood. That’s the reason for the passion."