NORTH LAWNDALE — A West Side mini-golf attraction that has been defunct for years is set to reopen this summer, thanks to a teen-led initiative to redesign the course.
The mini-golf course at the Douglass Park Field House had been in an unusable state of disrepair for at least 10 years. The obstacles in the course had fallen apart, and the turf putting green had peeled, torn and weathered away.
But the teens of the Douglass 18 project have reimagined the deteriorated golf course as a bird-themed educational public art project that will once again be a prime attraction within North Lawndale.
“It’s very good to get people that don’t live in North Lawndale to actually come enjoy the neighborhood,” said JB Lewis, a student working on the project.
With the mini-golf course set to reopen in the summer, the youth have launched a bilingual campaign to inform the community about the new design, which will use art to educate visitors about the diverse population of native bird species that live in Douglass Park.
The young people worked with the Lincoln Park Zoo, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago Homan Square, local artist Haman Cross, Firehouse Community Arts Center, the Chicago Park District, LL Bean, the Trust for Public Land, Open Architecture Chicago and other partners to design and build the put-put course.
A group of students previously spent about a year working on the designs before building life-size paper-mâché models that show what the sculptures and obstacles on the final course will look like. The models were showcased in 2019 at the mini-golf course and at the Space p11 gallery in the Chicago Pedway.
Those sculptures were fabricated into permanent fixtures that will be installed at Douglass Park in the coming months.
Each of the sculptures and obstacles are inspired by one of the 200 species of migratory birds that can be found living in Douglass Park.
“A lot of the obstacles on the course, it has to do with the habitat of the bird, diet of the bird or any behaviors of the bird,” said Jaeda Branch, a community learning facilitator with Lincoln Park Zoo assisting the youth on the project. “A lot of the colored turf grasses you’ll see, those will be the colors of the birds’ feathers.”
One hole in the course was designed by Jereka Dunn to represent the seasonal habitats and behavioral adaptations of the American tree sparrow.
“Half of it’s going to be summer and you’re going to see what they eat, you can see their eggs …,” Dunn said. “The other side is going to be wintertime. … They bathe in dirt and things like that, which is different from what they do in the summer.”
Students working on the outreach campaign are building up excitement around the complete overhaul of the course by sharing educational information about the birds in the park on their Instagram page and Facebook page. Young people are teaching the community about the habitats and migratory patters for bird species like the indigo bunting and the American goldfinch that can be spotted in the area.
“Douglass Park is a place with a lot of nature. I’m pretty happy to be part of this because I had no clue there were over 200 species of birds in that park,” said student Alondra Recendez. “It’s important for me to learn more about the community. … I want to learn more about the city I grew up in.”
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.
Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.