BUCKTOWN — Fans of Walsh Park may be bummed to learn they can’t enjoy the park this summer.
Leaders of the park’s advisory council, however, said the renovations prompting the construction are long overdue — and will be well worth the wait.
The Chicago Park District broke ground on a long list of renovations last month, and come fall, park goers will notice a series of changes:
- New playground equipped with six water jets, net climbers, a slide and multi-user swings
- Brighter lighting and enhanced landscaping
- A fitness area
- A communal gathering space
Located at 1722 N. Ashland Ave., Walsh Park serves as the easternmost entrance to the 606 park system — a series of parks that connect pedestrians and cyclists to the elevated Bloomingdale Trail, which extends from Walsh Park to Humboldt Park.
During this summer’s construction, the trail and a dog-friendly area will remain accessible at Walsh Park’s north end.
The renovations are long-overdue, Walsh Park Advisory Council president Ananda Breslof said. For example, she said the playground equipment was more than 20 years old.
The park itself is much older than that.
On July 7, 1970, the vacant building that once occupied 1722 N. Ashland Ave. caught fire and burned to the ground.
John P. Walsh, Jr., a Chicago Fire Department firefighter and a former U.S. Marine, was one of the firefighters who helped put out the blaze. During the fire he was injured, and died shortly after.
Several months after Walsh’s death, the Chicago Park District began working toward developing the scarred site as a neighborhood park.
The park district acquired the 2-acre property in 1972 with the help of grant funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The 2-acre park included playground equipment, an athletic field, basketball hoops and a sand box — and was named for the man who died trying to save the building in its spot.
Since then, a couple of changes have taken place under the leadership of the Walsh Park Advisory Council.
For example, about eight years ago, the council received a grant to create Walsh Park’s dog friendly area, Breslof said.
The council also oversaw the restoration of the plaque dedicated to John Walsh, said neighbor and council leader Ali Riahi said.
The creation of the Bloomingdale Trail in 2015 led to the park’s increased popularity, which underscored the need for improvements, park leaders said.
When the Bloomingdale Trail opened and Walsh Park served as its easternmost access point, trees that once provided privacy from the bustling Ashland Avenue were torn down to make room for the trail.
As a result, Riahi said, leaders noticed a sharp uptick in the number of cyclists, dogs and children who frequented the park.
“Prior to the trail, no one knew this park existed,” he said. “Now it’s become a destination.”
The construction taking place today is funded by an Open Space and Land Acquisition grant — money that the Chicago Park District received from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources in 2014.
That money was actually initially set aside for the creation of a skate park, a plan that Breslof and several other neighbors opposed.
Chicago Park District project manager Michael Lange worked with the council on the design of the park.
Follow The 606 on social media for updates. To get involved with the Walsh Park Advisory Council, email Breslof at WalshParkAdvisoryCouncil@gmail.com.