WEST RIDGE — Volunteers who help oversee the West Ridge Nature Preserve are hoping to expand their base after a wave of late-night vandalism has left parts of the preservation defaced and destroyed.
Linda Apicella Wilson, a member of the Park Advisory Council, said though during the daylight the lush park continues to be a safe and serene place, vandals have increasingly been entering the park after-hours — resulting in broken play equipment, graffiti, knocked over fences and more.
"You know, it's usually pretty pictures of cute animals, but not lately," Wilson said of the park's Facebook page, where she and others have posted photos of the damage. "We have been targeted in the past, and we try and live through it and not make a big deal, but it is getting to the point where we're looking for help."
Among the things broken or defaced were protective sheets of Plexiglas over signs and park features, a sign warning visitors of poison ivy, and granite stones that make up a seating circle near the park's pond.
The park's nature play area, an area set aside for children, was "literally demolished" by vandals, who cut through ropes of a children's swing, knocked over logs used to make a teepee and destroyed fences.
Those doing the damage are entering the park after its closing at dusk, Wilson said, most likely through its Western Avenue-facing entrance gates, which remain unlocked overnight.
The group has inquired with the Chicago Park District about locking the gates at night, but said it was told that because so many parks are outfitted with the same gate, and, therefore controlled by a small set of master keys, it would not be feasible to consistently have someone available to close the doors.
Volunteers have also thought about asking for a copy of the key so they can lock the gates themselves, but Jessica Maxey-Faulkner, a park district spokeswoman, said that "keys would not be given to a non-employee."
"Security is very sympathetic, but they've got hundreds of parks to look at and not a great number of staff," Wilson said. "They've said, 'Yeah, you've got people taking down logs and cutting up swings, and other parks have people with guns threatening the community.'"
"In comparison our problems are relatively minor, but certainly everybody takes it seriously because, you know, this is our park."
A children's area has been knocked apart, including the dismantling of tree teepee structures and swings attached to them, and a nearby fence was damaged. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]Broken Plexiglas over the preserve's information board at the entrance [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
Even with locked gates, Wilson suspected ambitious vandals could find other ways to get into the park, such as scaling one of the surrounding walls or fences.
Wilson said she's working with Ald. Patrick O'Connor's (40th) office to potentially install a police camera near the park in the hopes of capturing footage of those causing the damage.
"It doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense — what are they getting out of this?" Wilson said. "Nothing much."
The group is also looking for help from the community.
Passersby who happen to catch the destruction in action should also take pictures and note a description of the vandals if it's safe to do so, but not to approach them, Wilson said.
Gary Morrissey, also with the advisory council, said he's looking for additional volunteers who can help come up with ideas to help protect the park not only with the damage at night, but also ensuring park users respect it during the day by picking up after themselves.
"I just wish people would respect the area a little bit more," Morrissey said. "We pick up a bag of litter every time we go through, I just dropped a baby diaper in the trash."
For those who wish to lend a hand to the park, Morrissey can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, and anyone with information regarding vandalism is asked to call Chicago Police at 312-742-7529.
"I understand the teenagers that come in here every once in a while and get a couple too many beers in them, and I wish they wouldn't do damage, but those are isolated incidents," he said. "It's the everyday issues that are kind of the bigger concern to me."
Trash found at the preserve on Thursday included dog waste bags, a wine bottle, old cigarette carton, plastic bags and what appeared to be a handful of small, empty drug baggies. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]