Residents Discuss the Future of Wilmette's Lakefront

The Wilmette Park District sought resident input Saturday to begin the process of crafting a master plan for its two lakefront parks.

While Wilmette currently has no plan for how its lakefront will look over the next 50 years, residents got the ball rolling Saturday when they gathered to discuss their visions.

The Lakefront Commission, a committee within the Wilmette Park District, held its first of several planning workshops over the weekend. The parks department and architects from JJR, a Chicago design firm, encouraged the roughly 75 residents in attendance to talk candidly about what the lakefront parks, which includes and Langdon, are doing well and doing poorly. The last series of renovations occurred in Gillson during the 1990s.

"There is no plan in place," said Terry Porter, chairman of the planning commission. "What we're trying to do is gather input from the public to develop a master plan." 

The workshop addressed everything from views and vistas to regulations on swimming, sailing and other water sports. However, project leaders emphasized that the plan wouldn't be a perfect answer to every desire.

"No program can do everything, and we don't want to be redundant," said Gregg Calpino, one of the principals of JJR. "Ultimately we want to make sure we're complementing the Wilmette park system as a whole."

Special consideration was also given to the way the land will change in coming decades due to climate change. Jack Cox, a coastal engineer with JJR, personified Mother Nature and explained how ruthlessly she tries to impose her will. 

"As Mother Nature, I am a fickle lady, and I am always hungry, and I like to eat sand," Cox said, eliciting laughs from the audience. "If you wan to dig a hole, I'll fill it in. If you want to build something up, I'm going to tear it down. We must take into account the effects of our actions on the landscape. As we plan and prepare, we have to consider the high water lines that will be back in the future."

Although there wasn't much in the way of definite plans moving forward, residents' opinions were carefully recorded for consideration as the plan moves forward. After a presentation from the planning commission and JJR, residents broke off into eight-person focus groups to talk about their goals in three areas: the natural environment, existing buildings and programming. Below are quote breakdowns of those discussions:

Regarding the old sailing beach:

  • Resident Alice Magos on Langdon Park's old sailing beach that began to deteriorate: "In the middle '70s it got really bad. It was eroding the bluff. We had to crank the boats up on a winch. We called it Coronary Hill."
  • A man passed by and interjected: "Someone else remembers the sailing beach? I used to work the crank! I've been living here too long to let [the planning] go by without me."

Paying for beach access:

  • Catherine Davis, pointing out the absence of facilities, a snack shack and a lifeguard: "To have to pay to get on this beach sort of sticks in my craw."
  • Alice Magos: "The point of the fee is to restrict all the bums that used to hang out on the beach with their bonfires and their drinking and their hypodermic needles."

On building a new beach house:

  • Alice Magos: "Well, you'd have to put in all new sewers."
  • Catherine Davis: "Ah, the voice of frugality over here."
  • Alice Magos: "You know, you rent umbrellas from the beach house and make money."
  • Catherine Davis: "Yes! It's so hot." 

On clearly marking walking trails and bike paths:

  • Catherine Davis: "I've almost been run over by a biker."
  • David Rankin: "I don't think people know which is which."
  • Tina Harlan: "And if they do know, they don't care."

On adding a few amenities to the beach at Langdon Park:

  • Evita Vulgaris: "Some showers there would be really nice, especially because you have to pay."
  • Alice Magos: "As I said, the fees are for security. It's like a private beach."
  • Catherine Davis: "What about the ravine to get down there? My mother couldn't get down there."
  • Alice Magos: "That's why we call it Coronary Hill."
  • Catherine Davis: "I'm thinking medium access. I don't want everyone getting in there."
  • Alice Magos: "I love that beach."

Membership cards versus pinned-on tags:

  • Catherine Davis: "I like a plastic tag that has a pin."
  • Karen Glennemeier: "I guess the issue with the pin is that you could take it off and give it to your friend:
  • Catherine Davis: "Oh, so what? People do it all the time in Evanston."

On technology:

  • Residents discussed creating a Facebook page for the lakefront parks, adding maps and utilizing scannable membership pins that could also provide self-guided tours to visitors' smartphones.
  • David Rankin: "If you don't start with a vision that includes that technology, which will be commonplace in a decade, we'll be behind."

On water safety classes for kids to understand the beauty and danger of the lake:

  • Christy Coughlin: "Maybe when they're teenagers they'll recall some of these things and remember, 'This is why I don't swim on this day."
  • Tad Gray: "And maybe they could spend three hours on a weekend walking down the beach and talking with people about what they've learned."

On having beach clean-up days:

  • Alice Magos said in rememberance: "We'd get rolls of dimes, and we'd throw them out on the beach. And a week later, we'd say, 'Okay, kids. Go clean up the beach!'"

On visioning being fun:

  • Tad Gray, joking: "If you don't vote for this plan, we're going to dynamite the entire place and put a nuclear power plant in."
  • Residents also talked about improvements to the existing dog beach. Several people were self-described "cat people."
  • Gregg Calpino: "Did I hear 'cat beach'?"
  • Christy Coughlin, joking: "Yeah, we'll send that over to the nude beach idea."
  • Gregg Calpino: "It can be the 'nude cat beach.' And who said visioning can't be fun?"

The final master plan is projected to be ready in early 2012. The next visioning workshop will take place at the Lakeview Center in Gillson Park on Thursday at 7 p.m. What are your thoughts on the above topics? 

Wilmette Resident April 12, 2011 at 07:56 PM
Gale has an interesting idea. In my opinion, the physical layout of Gilson is great. We take our children to all sections of the park depending on whether we are having a picnic or are up for a swim; the fact that we can't do both on the same beach is a drag. Why is it like that? Unfortunately, we have stopped going in the evenings to the open beach because it seems to be taken over by non-residents in the late afternoons, especially on weekends. It's frustrating to head to the beach that my taxes pay for, only to not be able to find a spot for a blanket. I'm not suggesting that we close off the beach to non-residents, but perhaps we can make it a little more difficult for them to be there. Or at least, capture revenue from non-residents, perhaps in the form of non-resident parking fees.
Wilmette Resident April 12, 2011 at 08:00 PM
Oh, and I support the "nude cat beach". MEOW! ;)
J.M. April 13, 2011 at 09:07 PM
I wish the beach would pick a position: either be free to everyone, or enforce the fees more so that everyone has to pay. I'm honestly fine either way if only the rules were consistent. I get tired of buying our family pass every year, only to watch the many non-residents who scoff at the beach employees and just walk right in when asked for their passes. Either enforce the fees for everyone, or else don't charge me; I already pay a ton in taxes.
NHL August 20, 2011 at 06:39 PM
steve, i like your sensibility.... as you've noticed, it ain't like the coasts or hawaii, around these parts.... OUR Great Lakes are difficult to freely access, especially here in illinois----we have some of the most repressive water (you name it--rivers, Lake Michigan, inland lakes) access rights in the country. as a paddler, this has been a pet peeve of mine for years.... and langdon park---been using it since the late 70's, only to have it taken away several years ago.... private beaches? hah!! try to pull that one in hawaii!! thankfully, the state of michigan has taken a step in the right direction ruling that its Great Lakes beaches are public domain, even if rich folks have their cottages on the beachfront.... i know this reply is pretty late, but if you haven't already, i suggest you check out the illinois paddling counsel and the surfrider foundation chicago chapter.... and, BTW, we do have a surfing community here in chicagoland, so don't feel like you're missing out!
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