EDGEWATER — The city is drowning when it comes to its beaches.
It's no secret the shoreline has shrunk for many over the last few years. Four feet since 2013, in fact.
It was the same in the 1980s, said Edgewater resident Morry Matson, who heads the Edgewater Beachwalk Chicago group. And facing the same troubles then as residents do today, his organization is finally ready to present solid plans to the community on how to make long-term improvements along Edgewater's lakefront parks and bike path, he said.
Matson's group is also behind the push to get landmark status for a remaining piece of a 1934 sea wall.
At 7 p.m. June 1, an open house event at Berger Park (the south mansion) will showcase new renderings of plans created by architects Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill, who are also behind the new $35 million stage at Navy Pier's Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Matson said.
Edgewater Beachwalk's plans include extending the existing lakefront bike path that stops at Ardmore Avenue to Devon Avenue — effectively connecting many of the small beaches that populate the Edgewater and Rogers Park lakefronts to the rest of the city.
It would also make the lakefront more accessible for people who have disabilities.
"Now people in wheelchairs must use cramped city sidewalks and cross busy and dangerous city streets and are met with concrete barriers and chain link fences whenever they want to enjoy the lake between Ardmore and Devon," Matson said. "The [disabled] community expects and demands equal access to the lakefront."
Plans for an elevated promenade and bike path would also double the park space at Berger Park, create a new beach, boathouse and docking area, and a dog park at Thorndale Avenue.
The neighborhood lost its only city-designated dog-friendly area when Lake Michigan finally overtook Foster Beach.
Ald. Harry Osterman's (48th) office said his priority is diverting any available funds to Chicago Public Schools, which is facing additional looming cuts, though he supports Matson's passion for the lakefront idea.
"There's just not significant available funding," for such a large-scale project at the moment, said Jerry Goodman of Osterman's office, but he said the alderman would look "for ways to enhance it, and keep it as beautiful as it is."
An elevated bike path and promenade with benches, lighting, flowers and more are part of Edgewater Beachwalk Chicago's long term ideas to improve the lakefront in Edgewater. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
Matson said he also envisions reinforced buttresses that alleviate flooding for high-rise residents, who generally use underground parking garages, as well as a new ComEd electrical grid for lakefront residents to replace one that was "fried" by high-tides in the '80s.
Hand-drawn renderings created by Matson and pictures of other beachwalks around the country that serve as inspiration for the group's vision show small beautification improvements like lights and flower-filled planter boxes.
Matson said as his group has developed ideas over the years, he's met with residents and representatives from high-rises that dot the shoreline, with mostly positive feedback.
Aside from the not-so-pretty views and inconvenience of construction that Matson estimated could take years, he said some had expressed concern that the bike bath and promenade would become such a hit it would draw in people from not only other neighborhoods, but across the state — this time flooding the neighborhood with people, not waves.
As a result, Matson said he'd hears some worries the path would spur business development along the path and "wreck the beauty" of the lakefront, something that "won't happen," he vowed.
"They would say, 'You know if we have this thing we're just going to have people from the South Side, or all from Chicago, and it's going to become a beach tourist attraction," Matson said. "They were concerned about the volumes of foot traffic that was going to be coming in ... and then if you have all that volume of traffic coming in then they had this notion that the crime rate was going to increase."
Part of the new plan also includes things like addition benches, some of which are currently sunk into the sand and partially buried. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
Inviting people to the lakefront could encourage drug dealing and prostitution, Matson said he heard from neighbors a few years ago.
Matson said he understood the concerns, but said residents didn't need to worry about the path attracting crime.
After meeting with condo associations along Foster Beach, he said he asked them how they dealt with crime at the lakefront.
Their response surprised him, he said.
"We went to the current path ... and we said, 'We want to know how high the crime rate here's gone up since this bike path has been here,' and they all said, 'What crime rate?'" Matson said.
If anything, he said the project would bring in some "much-needed lighting" that would help prevent drug deals that take place under the cover of darkness along the path now.
On June 3, his group is also meeting in front of The Breakers, 5333 N. Sheridan Road, where the former Edgewater Beach Hotel once stood, to sing it "Happy Birthday" on what would have been its centennial had it not been demolished between the late 1960s and early 1970s.
After that, the group will take a guided tour through the lakefront where Matson will explain and present his group's beachfront plans.
All are welcome to attend.
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