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West Ridge Nature Preserve: Neighbors Want Dogs, Boats Barred From New Park

By Benjamin Woodard | September 10, 2013 6:28am
 The West Ridge Nature Preserve is a planned 20-acre park at the edge of Rosehill Cemetery.
West Ridge Nature Preserve
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WEST RIDGE — Chicago's newest park — officially called Park 568 — borders grave sites and two busy arterial streets.

A fence made of rusty steel spikes flanks its west side along Western Avenue, while an 8-foot-high concrete wall runs along Peterson Avenue on its north side.

For decades, the pond and surrounding woodland on the 20-acre plot had remained untouched, except by the occasional trespassing angler, bird watcher or pack of children seeking summer adventure.

But now — since the Chicago Park District bought the property from Rosehill Cemetery for $7.7 million — the barricades soon will be torn down, and the land should be open to the public by the end of 2014.

Some neighbors want to be sure to preserve as much of the wildlife as possible that has made the secluded land its home.

"My daughter and I spent many adventurous days in that space," said resident Patrice Ceisel, 60, who has lived nearby for 22 years. "So, I am giving back to the space that gave so much to us."

As the Park District designs the park, also known as the West Ridge Nature Preserve, Ceisel and other members of the park's new advisory council hope to save such wildlife as foxes, raccoons, birds, fish and deer for generations to come.

They have lobbied the Park District to restrict fishing, boats and dogs.

Initial plans presented to the community earlier this year featured a boat launch and designated fishing holes, which upset some neighbors who said the park was looking more like an entertainment venue than a "nature preserve."

In response, the newly formed advisory council submitted recommendations to the Park District this summer.

Park officials said they've been working closely with the advisory council and walked through the soon-to-be developed park with the group this summer.

The Park District has agreed to outlaw boats and dogs — but not fishing, Ceisel said.

"People would be allowed to fish, whether they [opponents] like it or not," said Ald. Pat O'Connor's chief of staff Tim Czarnecki.

The Chicago Ornithological Society called for similar precautions to protect migratory birds and other animals.

Advocates said the northernmost section of the park should be restricted to most park-goers to create a "wildlife refuge." The park's meandering path should be permeable to rainwater and no more than 3 feet wide, they said.

The council recommended that a stream along the west edge of the park be extended and drained into the pond, instead of the sewer, to create a wetland and a cascading water feature for birds to rest and drink.

On a hot day in September, empty beer cans and other trash littered the land closest to Western Avenue, just past the steel fence.

But farther away from the bustle of the city, butterflies chased one another past the season's final wildflowers near an old water tower and pump house on the land, while a flock of ducks cooled in the pond and in the shade of the park's Green Ash and White Poplar.

Soon this glimpse of nature will be available to everyone.

"I feel very strongly [the park] will enhance the quality of life," said Betty Redmond, 67, who lives in the bordering Bowmanville neighborhood. "To see nature in its own habitat, in a somewhat isolated location, is a rare opportunity in the city of Chicago."