ROGERS PARK — After fighting for years to get the city to install life-saving flotation devices along the Rogers Park lakefront, neighbors took matters into their own hands over the weekend and installed a life ring and caution signs at Tobey Prinz Beach Park.
But by Monday, the life ring and signs installed by two neighbors were removed from the beach by the Park District, said Ald. Maria Hadden (49th).
The life ring and signs were installed on the end of Pratt Pier, which juts out into the lake at Tobey Prinz Beach, 1050 W. Pratt Blvd. Of the four people who have drowned in Rogers Park in recent years, three of the incidents happened near the pier, Hadden said.
That includes a drowning last week: On Aug. 22, 19-year-old Miguel Cisneros Jr. drowned after jumping off Pratt Pier for a swim. It happened before lifeguards were on duty.
Cisneros was close enough to be thrown a life ring, Hadden said. Onlookers ran from the pier to the lifeguard station on the beach, where they were unable to access a life ring or rope, she said in a recent email to constituents. First responders were unable to save Cisneros.
Rogers Park resident Jim Ginderske said he was tired of the Park District’s “inaction” and decided to do something about it.
Ginderske put up a Coast Guard-rated life ring Friday night. Another person added two signs later. One said, “Do not swim near pier. Strong current,” with the words “F— austerity” at the bottom. The second sign said, “Life rings not goons.”
But they only lasted the weekend.
“I’m not surprised they removed it,” Ginderske said. “I’m appalled they removed it and didn’t replace it.”
With the signs removed, there is no warning mentioning dangerous lake conditions at the end of the popular pier. Ginderske said he could understand removing the foul language from the signs, but something is needed in their place.
“It’s especially troubling,” he said of the sign removals.
Park District officials did not say why the life ring and signs were removed but said the district is looking into adding life-saving devices at beaches.
“The Chicago Park District is currently exploring supplemental safety equipment for sanctioned swim locations,” spokesperson Michele Lemons said in a statement. “The Chicago Park District urges the public to enjoy our beaches safely by entering the water only when lifeguards are on duty and respecting the flag system that notifies beach goers of current water conditions.”
Hadden and neighbors are renewing their efforts to have the Park District install flotation devices along the lake.
“We’ve been working for a couple years trying to get the Park District to care about the safety of swimmers along the lakefront,” Hadden said in a social media post. “Here we are, another summer and more drowning victims.”
Rogers Park neighbors have asked for life rings at beaches for years. That is especially true near Pratt Pier, where waters are rougher than closer to the beach, neighbors said.
In 2018, one of the pier’s most prominent fisherman, Croslene Kettle, drowned near Pratt Pier while going for a routine swim. His death stunned friends and neighbors, as Kettle had fished and swam near the pier for decades.
In 2017, Halle Quezada was at Rogers Beach Park when a 13-year-old girl drowned. Since then, she’s worked with neighbors like Ginderske to increase safety measures at beaches and pools.
Quezada’s started a petition to have the Park District install life rings at beaches, and it has received nearly 3,600 signatures. Quezada said the decision to remove the life ring after a recent drowning death was “cruel.”
“These traumas live in the community, but the culpability lies with Park District,” she said.
Neighbors have asked that aldermanic budgets fund flotation device installations at Rogers Park beaches. Hadden supports the measure but has said the Park District has stymied the efforts over the possibility of legal liability if life rings are not available during emergencies because they were stolen or used and not replaced.
The city — not the Park District — has installed life rings at bridges and along the Chicago River, Hadden said.
“I think it’s a cop-out,” she said. “They could be doing so much more.”
Chicago beaches are open 11 a.m.-7 p.m. daily through Labor Day.
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