HUMBOLDT PARK — For years, rumors that Humboldt Park's man-made beach might close have floated around the neighborhood. But with state budget cuts hitting city parks, residents are more nervous about the beach's future than ever — and officials say they might finally have something to worry about.
"For the last four years, rumors [have been] floated that the beach won't open, so there seems to be a bit of a scare every year," said Morgan Halstead, who recently started a petition to save the beach. "I've heard it from park employees, volunteers, patrons of the beach — it's an annual rumor. But, given the Governor's cuts [to parks], I think the community is particularly worried."
Halstead's petition, "Save the Humboldt Park Beach," has gotten 1,000 signatures since Saturday. The petition is addressed to Chicago Park District executives Mike Kelly and Patrick Levar, Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) and Ald. Joe Moreno (1st).
There have been "some suggestions by the Park District to replace [the beach] with some sort of naturalized area," Kathleen Oskandy, a spokeswoman for Madonado, confirmed Wednesday. "Each year about this time we do get a few calls. I have gotten one call so far."
An avid beach goer since 2010, Halstead told DNAinfo she has not heard back from the park's advisory council on whether the beach will open when others do on Memorial Day weekend. For now, the lagoon is dry, drained for the fall and winter.
Amy Vega, president of the Humboldt Park Advisory Council, said, "residents are concerned because a full time life guard has been removed from the budget. The budget is online and public information. But the park has NOT stated that the beach will be closed."
The uncertainty comes just weeks after Gov. Rauner moved to freeze $28 million in state grants set to go to the Chicago Park District, though district officials did not say those cuts would impact the Humboldt beach.
Alisa Hauser says statewide cuts are the concern:
Reasons to keep the beach open have been passionate, according to dozens of comments posted to the petition's page on Change.org.
"THIS BEACH IS ESSENTIAL TO HUMBOLDT PARK and surrounding neighborhoods, it is not just a gem, it is a necessity. We must keep it open!! " wrote Kelly Kaczynski, who described the beach as an incredible "relief/release."
"It has been proven that water, bodies of water in a city - water fountains, water sprinklers, pools, ponds, beaches, etc - in a city help to provide needed relief from tensions that can otherwise build with the heat or general stress of a metropolis, especially in areas which are less 'fortunate' economically than other more affluent areas of the city," Kaczynski wrote.
Jessica Maxey-Faulkner, a Park District spokeswoman, would not discuss plans for the beach Wednesday, but confirmed that all of the city's beaches are "scheduled to open as planned."
Maxey-Faulkner issued the following statement about the city's only inland beach:
"Mayor Emanuel and the Chicago Park District have been committed to enhancing the quality of life of Chicago residents by providing safe and inviting parks and facilities and creating a park system that prioritizes the needs of children and families. The Chicago Park District highly values community and neighborhood input, and we will certainly work with the alderman and residents before taking any action regarding the future of Humboldt Park’s man-made beach."
(l.) Oscar Isleno on the beach last summer. (DNAinfo/Mark Konkol)
On Tuesday, Dennis Levovsky, 37, was walking past the beach while pushing his 13-month-old daughter, Tara, in a stroller.
Levovsky said that he has gone to the beach for the past seven summers and plans to take his daughter there this season.
"It is not fancy, that's why we like it. At Lincoln Park beach and on the lakefront beaches, people don't say hi. Here they are friendly and it is not as crowded," Levovsky said.
Halstead said the beach attracts a lot of children.
"It's really most useful to kids especially because it is extremely shallow," she said.
The beach itself used to be a lagoon. It was drained to its clay bottom in the '70s, covered with sand from the Indiana Dunes and regularly gets filled with filtered freshwater that’s just deep enough to cool off in on a hot day.
Last summer, families flocked the tiny beach after a storm led to the closure of lakefront beaches.
“It’s great," one parent told DNAinfo at the time. "The water temperature is perfect, 68 all the time. It’s clean and the water’s filtered all the time. You can’t beat it.”
Levovsky with daughter, Tara (DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser)
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