ROGERS PARK — Nearly two weeks after removing neighbor-installed life rings, the Chicago Park District has reversed course and added new flotation devices to a dangerous section of the Rogers Park lakefront.
Park District crews on Friday installed life rings at Tobey Prinz Beach Park, including one at Farwell Pier that has been the site of three drownings in recent years. The new life rings come after years of advocacy by Rogers Park neighbors, and after a few residents took matters into their own hands.
The new life rings are one of multiple ways the Park District pledges to improve lakefront safety in response to neighbor outcry about recent drownings. At a district board meeting Wednesday, officials said some dangerous portions of the lakefront would be closed to the public, among other precautions.
More life rings will come to lakefront areas this year and next, Park District CEO Mike Kelly said at an unrelated news conference Friday. And while the plan to close lakefront areas is not sitting well with some officials, that effort will be used as a “last resort,” he said.
“We’re reserving the right to do that,” Kelly said. “But that’s not something we’re doing today.”
Rogers Park neighbors have pushed the district for years to respond to drowning deaths in the neighborhood. The issue came to a head last month when 19-year-old Miguel Cisneros drowned after jumping off Farwell Pier when lifeguards were not on duty.
In response, a neighbor installed a life ring at the end of the pier and other neighbors installed “caution” signs.
Parks crews removed those and subsequent life rings left at the pier, saying the rings were not authorized by the district and that officials would explore adding their own. Neighbors and local officials blasted that move. Dozens of neighbors joined Cisneros’ mother at the pier this week, paying tribute to the teen and again urging Park District officials to intervene to make the area safer.
Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) said the district-sanctioned life rings are a good first step and she is not in favor of closing of lakefront areas like Farwell Pier.
“I hope this is a small measure of relief for Miguel’s family,” Hadden said in a social media post. “Our community is not asking for this pier — or any pier — to be closed. While they have yet to determine potential closures, I have cautioned the Park District that this would not be accepted by our residents or my office and would create a host of other issues.”
As recently as Wednesday, Park District officials were not completely on board with installing their own life rings. General Counsel Tim King said at the district meeting life rings would come to beaches under a pilot program but not to “not-safe-to-swim” locations.
Kelly said Friday he still prefers not to add the rings to unsanctioned swim areas, citing concerns about legal liability.
“We still firmly believe we should not be encouraging or giving any false sense of security that the life ring will save your life in an area that is do-not-swim,” Kelly said.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she favors adding life-saving devices along the lakefront but said “they are not a panacea to common sense and being smart about how you engage with bodies of water.”
“The lake is beautiful,” she said Friday. “But the lake is also dangerous. People should not take unnecessary risk.”
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