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Uptown, Edgewater, Rogers Park

Chicagoans Flock To Closed Beaches, But City Plans To Kick Them Out This Weekend

The city's "social distance ambassadors" weren't having much luck clearing Montrose Beach Thursday. “We tried telling them but they ignored us."

Social distancing ambassadors patrol the lakefront Thursday.
Bob Chiarito/Block Club Chicago
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LAKEVIEW — Despite another reminder from city officials Thursday that beaches and the lake remain closed, a few hundred people were on Montrose Beach and in Lake Michigan on Thursday.

At a Thursday press conference with Mayor Lori Lightfoot and other city officials, Chicago Park District Superintendent and CEO Michael Kelly reminded people not to come to city beaches for the holiday weekend. 

“I want to remind everybody that the beaches are still closed. The water is still off-limits. The lakefront trail is open, enjoy the lakefront, you just can’t enjoy the beaches or the water,” Kelly said.

Lightfoot added that the Lakefront Trail would remain open, “as long as people keep it moving.”

But as Kelly and Lightfoot spoke to reporters in Englewood, people were scattered across Montrose Beach sunbathing and swimming in the lake — some unaware of that they were partaking in a prohibited activity.

Maddie Brockmyre of Lakeview was with a group of friends on the beach and said she was unaware that it was still closed. She said she was with roommates and friends that have been together throughout the pandemic and felt safe at the beach.

“Everyone here is keeping with their group and not getting close in the water so I don’t think it’s unsafe. When we leave, we all wear masks as we walk out,” Brockmyre added.

Her friend Holly Mattox said the water was nice and felt that the rules on what is open and what isn’t do not make sense.

“Indoor eating is open at restaurants but this isn’t. That’s weird,” Mattox said.

Another person enjoying the beach Thursday was Angel James, a Mexican man vacationing in Chicago. James said he wasn’t aware the beaches are closed and said he was enjoying himself.

“This is good,” James said. 

A few others said they were aware that the beaches were closed but didn’t agree with it.

“We stay in our own bubble of people. It’s all good,” said Jonathan Tripplett of Andersonville. 

The Lakefront Trail, closed for a couple months because of the pandemic, was reopened last week and “social distance ambassadors” were hired by the park district to remind people to not cluster on the trail. Three ambassadors were seen at Montrose Beach on Thursday, and they said they tried to tell a few people that the beaches were closed but were ignored.

“We tried telling them but they ignored us. We told the police but they aren’t doing anything,” one of the ambassadors said. He added that “tomorrow we’ll have 20 of us here kicking people out because we don’t want the holiday weekend to get nuts.”

While ongoing beach closures have been in the news for weeks, there were only two signs indicating that the beach was closed and both were a few blocks from the actual beach. One was located near Montrose Avenue and Lake Shore Drive and the other near Wilson Avenue and Lake Shore Drive.

In an emailed statement, Park District spokesman Michele Lemons said “red flags are displayed at each beach to indicate that swimming is not allowed and lifeguards are not on duty.”

“During the 4th of July weekend, the Chicago Park District will deploy its security and Social Distancing Ambassadors to discourage all activity, including swimming, within closed areas along the lakefront,” Lemons said. “In addition, we will continue to work closely with the Chicago Police Department.”

In a statement, Chicago Police spokesman Sgt. Rocco Alioto said “officers will continue to approach each interaction with the highest level of professionalism and attempt to gain compliance through education and warnings, with enforcement action being available as a last resort.”

Despite the fact that beaches are closed, 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.

With no plans to bring lifeguards to closed beaches, Lightfoot has urged Chicagoans to stay out of the water.

“I just want to caution people again about the dangers of the lake,” Lightfoot said at 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.”

On Thursday, Lightfoot said the police bike and marine unit would be patrolling the beaches to make sure no one is swimming.

“Every single year we lose so many people who drown in Lake Michigan,” she said. “And this year, we have no lifeguards on the beaches because the beaches are closed. Please, don’t be foolish. The lake is dangerous.”

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