by Christine Williamson

The Chicago Park District (CPD) has been collecting community input to its latest park master plan - the South Lakefront Framework Plan - for more than year.

The proposal will create a plan for the next ten years for Jackson Park (JP) and the South Shore (SS) Cultural Center to “respond to neighborhood needs and historic context; provide a vision for improvements and serve as a planning tool; and outline priorities to deliver improvements in a coordinated manner,” according to the CPD’s website.

The most recent framework plan features addressed by the CPD at a January 31 meeting at the South Shore Cultural Center were proposed changes to the Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses.

The community meeting was very well attended with many people who appeared to be southsiders with a vested interest in the South Lakefront Framework Plan (described as a “complete redesign”). A group of golf enthusiasts attended the meeting and clapped about every design feature associated with the golf courses. Birdwatchers and community residents who clearly wanted to protect wildlife habitat in these parks also attended the meeting and were not enthusiastically applauding the golf course adaptations.

The main speaker, Mike Kelly, superintendent of the Chicago Park District, focused exclusively on changes made to the redesign plans for the Jackson Park (JP) and South Shore (SS) golf courses in response to community input gathered throughout the last year. The good news for birds, birders and wildlife is that the current footprint of the golf courses hasn’t changed.
Kelly noted “the biggest constraint is geography” when it comes to the golf courses. They can’t be moved. They also are not being expanded, for the most part.

Most of the redesign focuses on: reconfiguring the golf course holes and flow design; connecting the golf courses in South Lakefront Framework Plan: Birds and Golf Courses JP; adding a new club house “to facilitate a nine-hole course” in JP; adding small lakes in in the JP and SS golf courses primarily for drainage (these golf courses apparently suffer mild flooding or high water tables); and increasing acres of native plantings within the golf courses.

The JP driving range is a real conundrum for the CPD. It seems likely that it will be eliminated because it can’t be made safe enough with more people present in in that part of the park who might be hit by golf balls.
Tree removal is “necessary” and “can’t be avoided,” Kelly said. Every tree in Jackson Park and in the South Shore park and golf course complex has been catalogued. Some trees from the original Olmsted plan will be preserved. Kelly said CPD has a good record of replanting trees in other parks but he wasn’t specific about whether tree replanting will be part of the JP and SS golf course redesign.

The new golf course plan preserves the “Marquette Corridor” and creates a pedestrian path that will be surrounded by (shielded by to prevent golf ball-human interactions?) native plantings. The east-west path will provide neighborhood access to the lakefront bike trail. This might prove to be a good birding corridor in the golf course.
The new plan adds more natural habitat within the golf courses and at SS: acreage is increased from 5.5 acres to 11 acres. Unfortunately, the existing nature preserve in SS just south of the beach will be reduced from 5.5 acres to 4 acres.

Most of the reduction in the natural area comes from the slight northern and eastern expansion of the southern portion of the SS course to encompass the small promontory point in the easternmost part of the natural area. The point will include a golf hole. This is the spot that the golf course designers, the PGA, Tiger Woods and the Mayor all have been drooling over because of the potential of capturing the Chicago skyline in a TV shot during a pro golf tournament. A new paved path also will traverse a small part of the SS natural areas to enable golf carts to be more easily returned to the cart corral near the SS Cultural Center.
To compensate for the loss of 1.5 acres in the SS natural area, CPD will add a fairly extensive (7 acre) patch of native plantings around a small lake on the east side of the northern portion of the SS golf course (roughly north of the horseback riding ring). The general public will have access to this natural area whenever the park is open. Beach grasses will be planted along the SS beach at its northern end.

The upshot is that SS natural area acreage is increased at the expense of the existing natural area because of a desire for a good TV shot. The existing natural area will be subject to more disturbance because of the golf cart path. However, there will be more natural areas in the JP golf courses with the proposed redesign that is, hopefully, a good habitat addition for birds.

Overall, the impact of the redesign is not as bad as many conservationists thought it would be. The CPD clearly heard the demand from locals for natural area preservation and added more natural area acres.

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