CHICAGO — The city’s beaches are still closed, but that has not stopped residents from using them — and a North Side alderman is asking the city to staff lifeguards at beaches ahead of the holiday weekend.
As the city reopens following the months-long stay at home order, lakefront parks and beaches remain closed. Still, residents have taken to the beaches, where potentially dangerous water conditions await them.
Ald. Maria Hadden (49th), whose Rogers Park ward includes a number of beaches, is calling on the city to provide lifeguards to monitor beaches and prevent drownings.
Hadden said people are heading to the closed beaches “in droves” despite the closure. Keeping people from beaches is particularly an issue in neighborhoods like Rogers Park and South Shore, where beaches abut residential streets and Lake Shore Drive does not act as a barrier, she said.
Given that Lake Michigan is at record-high levels, conditions are not favorable for unsupervised swimming, she said.
“It’s a dangerous body of water under the best of circumstances, but current conditions mean dangerous currents and lots of unseen structural obstacles that make it even more treacherous,” Hadden said on Facebook. “With another holiday weekend upon us and no lifeguards in the works, I fear for drownings that may occur.”
Hadden said she has been working with the Chicago Park District and Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office to get lifeguards at beaches.
The city has said “social distance ambassadors” are being deployed to prevent crowding along the Lakefront Trail. But those efforts are “not sufficient” to address the issue at beaches, Hadden said.
The Chicago Park District did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
While the city has recently reopened the Lakefront Trail, beaches are closed this holiday weekend, when crowds usually descend on the lakefront. It’s not sure yet when they’ll officially reopen.
Lightfoot has asked residents to stay away from city beaches and cautioned Chicagoans from going in the water.
“I just want to caution people again about the dangers of the lake,” Lightfoot said during a June 18 press conference. “Every year we have way too many instances of drowning because people underestimate the power of this lake. It is very powerful. It has a very heavy undertow.”
Hadden said she anticipates city crews will have a heavy presence along the lakefront to ward off congregating during the holiday. But those efforts could be concentrated at destination beaches near the Lakefront Trail, and not near neighborhood beaches in places like Rogers Park.
“I’m nervous about this weekend,” Hadden said. “The beaches by Lake Shore Drive, they’ll be well staffed. Not so in other parts of the city.”
In lieu of getting lifeguards to the lakefront in time for the Fourth of July weekend, Hadden is imploring Chicagoans to stay away from the beach and to definitely not go into the water.
“There is no one there to save them if they get into trouble,” Hadden said.
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