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You Need A Permit To Hang A Hammock In Chicago's Parks (Who Knew?)

By Alisa Hauser | April 18, 2017 6:17am
 Jacob Matz enjoying a sunny day in his hammock with his dog, Scout.
Jacob Matz enjoying a sunny day in his hammock with his dog, Scout.
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DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser

WICKER PARK — Planning on ensconcing yourself in an elevated nylon sling strung between trees? Be advised that officials say you need a permit to install a hammock in a Park District park.

In response to a query from DNAinfo, Jessica Maxey-Faulkner, a Chicago Park District spokeswoman, said Monday "the erection of a hammock would require a permit per the Chicago Park District code" and that "failure to obtain a permit would result in request for the removal."

Maxey-Faulkner said the Park District code prohibits stationing or erecting any canopy, scaffold, platform tents or other structure.

"While 'hammock' is not called out specifically, it would likely fall under the category of 'other structure,'" Maxey-Faulkner said.

 Hammocks in 2017.
Urban Hammocking
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When asked if it is even possible to get a permit to install a hammock, Maxey-Faulkner said the Chicago Park District requires the use of a permit for a variety of events and occasions, as described on its website.

Doug Wood, a member of the Wicker Park Advisory Council, a volunteer group that hosts community events in collaboration with the Park District, said hammocks are "completely illegal." 

Wood said he saw three people on Sunday in hammocks in Wicker Park's namesake park at 1425 N. Damen Ave. but did not say anything.

"I do not speak to the public to get them to follow the rules of the Park District," Wood said.

According to the city rules for seeking a permit to hold an event in a park, "fastening or attaching any rope, sign, banner, fliers or other object to any tree or shrub in the Chicago Park District is strictly prohibited."

Wood said that prohibition also applies to "non-permit people" such as folks who just want to swing in their hammocks.

In addition to the Park District,  Chicago Municipal Code states that "no person shall secure, hang, fasten, attach or run any rope, wire, sign, decoration, electrical device or other material upon, around or through any public tree without a permit to do so."

Wood said the rules are in place to protect the trees.

"The trees are important and they are stressed. You can't do all those things to trees because we would like them to live," Wood said.

On Sunday, Jacob Matz, a 24-year-old originally from Minnesota, was resting in a hammock slung between two trees on a parkway next to the park.

Matz said he arrived to Chicago in January 2016 with "two suitcases, bedding and a hammock" and he used his hammock so much that his father recently bought him a new one as a birthday gift because "he knew how much I liked my hammock."

John Nordquist, another hammock user at the park Sunday, said he was unaware that hammocks were prohibited.

But he disputed the idea that their use harms all trees.

"If you are putting [the hammock] around young saplings at a 45-degree angle, yes. Otherwise, I don't think [the trees] are really at that much risk, Nordquist said.

A Humboldt Park resident and musician who is also from Minnesota, Nordquist said he has been "hammocking" since 2010.

"I've never been approached by anyone concerned for [me] breaking rules. Plenty of people approach with interest to say, 'That's cool, where did you get your hammock?'" Nordquist said.

"Being in a hammock is very comfortable. I can take a nap in there, I have done a lot of music writing in it. I can play tug of war with my dog and swing back and forth," Nordquist said.

Erik Grossnickle, a commercial arborist who takes care of trees in the Wicker Park Bucktown and West Town Special Service Area Taxpayer districts, said installing hammocks on public trees is dangerous. 

"Trees are not necessarily as sturdy as they might look. The weight and stress could be harmful. If you are too big and the tree is too small, that could bend the tree in a certain way, and also using nylon or chain [to affix the hammock] could cause damage to the bark of the tree and rip apart the outer bark," Grossnickle said.

Grossnickle said that trees are an important fixture in the city of Chicago and are city property and they fall under many jurisdictions. 

"People should be mindful that trees don't need more stress than they already have. If you want to enjoy hammocking, do so on your own property. If you are using city property, be careful because it's your a-- on the line, literally," Grossnickle said.

John Nordquist and his dog, Scout, in Wicker Park's namesake park. [DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser]

Jacob Matz chilling in his hammock. [DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser]

A man in a hammock draws some attention from passersby. [DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser]