CHICAGO — The Chicago Park District has nixed a proposal to build a surfing park at Montrose Beach amid opposition from the city's bird watchers, who feared crowds from the park would chase away birds.
K.C. Hoos, of Chicago Surf, had hoped to renovate an existing restroom and concession area, upgrading the facilities and adding a wave pool that could be used to teach people how to surf, he said. But the proposal was rejected because the area's "birders" (or bird watchers) objected to its location, Hoos said.
Hoos said he's worked with the Park District for seven years trying to find a spot for the surf park, looking from Osterman to 35th Street beaches, but the rejection of the site at Montrose Beach might have been the nail in the coffin: He's dropping the plan unless there's an outpouring of support from the public.
“To be able to bring this to [the] Midwest and Chicago with an attractive patio and beautiful Lake Michigan surroundings seems pretty cool to me and a lot of other supporters,” Hoos said. “... But the bird people feel that this location is not good in relation to the birds and wildlife in the area. And they have a stronger connection with the Park District than I do.”
Dave Willard, president of the city's Audubon Society, said the surf park could have disrupted Montrose, the “gem of all birding places in the city,” and made it less friendly to birds.
“It is truly the centerpiece bird place in the whole of the city of Chicago,” Willard said. “It’s already got a lot of competing interests there that are trying their best to co-exist, and to throw something that is as big a concession as that into that already overused place just makes no sense.”
Willard said there had been opposition to the plan — including from the Audubon Society and Chicago's “whole birding community” — but he did not think it was rejected solely due to the birders' influence. Birders aren't inherently opposed to the plan and would assess a different site if one was put forth, Willard said.
Jessica Maxey-Faulkner, a Park District spokeswoman, said the Park District had rejected the location "as a result of community feedback," but Hoos could keep looking for alternate locations.
The surf park would have been the only one of its kind in Chicago, Hoos said, and it would have helped people who can't afford surf boards and wetsuits. The plan had received support from thousands of people before it was rejected, he said.
“The only way I would pursue it is if the public were to reach out to the Park District and the aldermen by sending emails and letters of support. If there’s enough of those, I would do it,” Hoos said. “Right now, I spent a lot of time on this already, and I need the public support … . If not, then yeah, I’m done.”
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