Hello Again and Welcome…
This web site has been inactive for a while because there wasn’t a lot to report. The City closed the West Road around the water plant, made improvements to the East Road and the new traffic pattern has worked.
People can still sit on the grassy area east of the water plant building. We lost a few parking spaces and the Park District limited the boat ramp use to those with seasonal passes. Also, there have been no daily launch passes since 2012 which diminished the use of the boat ramp.
On the whole, things have been working pretty well, with one big exception—the condition of the barge.
The Barge Before Today
The barge is the structure just east of the boat ramp. You may not have realized it was a barge, but it was towed to the location and sunk several years ago. It provides a protected cove for sailboat, kayak and paddleboard launches by minimizing the waves that hit the beach. Until a couple of years ago, its surface also provided a place to sit (there were benches), a place from where to fish and a place to walk.
The barge has been deteriorating since 2012. Filled with sand at the time it was sunk, holes in the water side expanded and the sand leaked out. At present, the surface of the barge has collapsed, leaving an empty structure, although its walls still offer some protection from waves, and it does provide the eastern side of the boat ramp.
Since 2012, the boating community has been telling the Park District the barge needed repairs, beginning at a time it would have cost about $10,000 a year for maintenance. Since they took no action, it has reached its present state.
In 2018, the Park District’s consultants outlined various alternatives, costing between $600,000-$1.2 million to build a replacement.
We didn’t put this up on this site last year because we thought the Park District was going to build a replacement and we were waiting to see which alternative they were going to pick. After hearing the report on alternative solutions from the Smith Group consultants, in the Fall of 2018 the Park District was on the verge of voting to fund the replacement. They said then that they should spend the money to do the job right, but delayed further to seek additional alternatives. Meanwhile, there was money in the Park District budget to address the issue.
But Since the fall of 2018 the Commissioners changed their minds and now have decided not to allocate any funds to repair the barge. They maintain that the barge only matters for a small number of power boaters and there aren’t enough of them to warrant the expense. In addition, they said that if the boating community wants to replace the barge, we need to look outside the Park District budget for private, grant or other creative financing.
The deterioration of the barge threatens the continued viability of the boat ramp, which, in addition to serving power boaters plays an important safety function. Last year, there were three drownings at Park Avenue Beach. Two kayakers went out without PFDs in a boat without positive flotation and only one returned. A few weeks later two members of a polar swim club drowned after being swept away in heavy surf. The entire community mourns these deaths and wants to reinforce the safety message; Lake Michigan can be dangerous.
As part of that message, there has been a name change. Last year the City of Highland Park and the Park District changed the name to Park Avenue Boating Facility in an effort to discourage people from thinking it’s a place to go swimming. The new name will appear on signs, maps and public messages. But safety requires more than just a name change.
The barge has been an important part of the safety net at Park Avenue and we thought that after the drownings that would be uppermost in the minds of Park District Commissioners.
In actuality, the barge and boat ramp enable the fire department’s mobile marine unit and the North Shore yacht Club’s safety boat, used for races, the high school sailing club, the summer learn to sail program and response to various rescue needs throughout the season. It also enables maintenance on the Water Department’s intake pipes.
If barge repair is not addressed, both safety and a variety of recreational uses are threatened.
City on the Lake
Highland Park stretches over 10 percent of the Illinois coast of Lake Michigan. As such, we believe the city and the Park District is in a rare position to benefit from a variety of lake oriented activities. We ask for your help in making sure this potential continues to be a reality. Please see How to Help.
Please attend the February Park District Board Meetings and speak on behalf of Park Avenue Beach, breakwater, and boat launch:
Tuesday February 11, 6:30 West Ridge - Workshop Meeting (Rosewood is item 4 and public comments are at the end, at item 10.)
Tuesday, February 25, 6:30 West Ridge - Regular Meeting (*Important, as they will likely vote on spending $0-$1.6 million at Rosewood Beach)
The park board of commissioners are on record that they have no plan to put money into Park Avenue Boating Facility (PABF). They also voted 3-2 to object to applying for an IDNR grant that might have provided money for the facility. They have statistics that show more “touches” by the community at other sites and their community survey puts PABF at the bottom of their list. Their only consolation has been forming a PABF Working Group that will provide recommendations to the board in April.
The Feb. 11 agenda and packet are linked below (Two December meeting minutes are also in the packet and include public comments in support of the boat launch/breakwater - and commissioner comments):
Please continue to attend the Park District Board meetings and if you have not, write to the commissioners. The board needs to hear that Park Avenue Boating Facility is used by the community, much more than their statistics show, and it is a valuable lakefront park that is at risk because of their poor management. (Scroll down for talking points).
If the PDHP does not commit to a capital improvement funding plan for a new breakwater then the entire beach and parking lot will be washed away in a few years. We will lose a valuable Highland Park lakefront park that is used by boaters, fishermen, and pedestrians. Smith Group was paid to provide numerous studies and designs since 2017 and it is time to take their recommendation and fund a new boat launch and breakwater. Smith Group stated failure could occur within 1-4 years.
Rosewood Beach is being overfunded while Park Avenue Boating Beach money was removed from the 5-year capital budget. The initial Rosewood Beach project was under-designed and buildings were placed next to ravines. Emergency monies ($310,000) replaced sand that washed away and now they are deciding to spend additional money for longterm infrastructure (currently on the February agendas). This is bad planning. (The Army Corp of engineer historical statistics show a 20-year cyclical lake high that should have been addressed by the Rosewood engineers.)
The PDHP Board needs to show commitment to the Park Avenue Beach (recently renamed Park Avenue Boating Facility) and put capital funding back into the 5-year capital plan. It looks like the board is walking away from the facility and the citizens want to know that this is not the case.
Park District Data collected at PABF does not record accurate usage. Data is only collected 3-months out of 12 when the facility is staffed: Weekends 8-5:30 from Memorial weekend to Labor day. The park district counts 1 launch as 1 user, when in actuality, one launch typically includes 4-5 people on a boat. There are so many more “touches" by boaters and non-boaters at the site than the park district is registering.
Is it a policy for the park district to only budget money into facilities that show revenue? Then they can start managing the property like a real facility. Maintenance of the barge was discontinued around 2015 and they stopped allowing daily boat launches in 2015. The facility is an eyesore with orange safety barrels and concrete barriers preventing use of the entire boat launch.
Speak Out at Park Board Meeting Tuesday Jan 14 6:30
Please come and speak TUESDAY at the next Park Board meeting and ask the commissioners to support and fund boating access at Park Avenue. Their actions and words show that they still believe boat access to Lake Michigan is a low priority and a boat launch is an unnecessary need of the community. Call them out on their wishy-washy management at the facility and their lack of maintenance on the barge/breakwater to the point of its demise. They also will be moving forward with a beach management plan for $35,000 (partly funded by IDNR) so it is important that they understand what to include at PABF for boating needs. We are the voice of the local boaters: powerboats, sailboats, kayaks, outrigger canoes, and paddleboards. The squeaky wheel gets the oil.
6:30 p.m. Tuesday, January 14th - West Ridge Center, Park Board Workshop Meeting
PABF update is item 3 on the agenda.
Beach Management plan grant approval is item 6
The agenda and meeting packet can be reviewed here:
What else can you do? If you haven’t already, Write the Commissioners and tell all your friends and family to write the commissioners about the need to fund the Park Avenue Boating Facility. Do not let your tax dollars continue to be squandered on poor staffing decisions, management failures, or funded engineering reports that are never acted upon - and instead, ask the board to spend your money on the incredible natural parks that fulfill the park board mission – the lakefront parks.