THREATENED: South Shore Community Urges Protection and Reinvestment in South Shore Nature Sanctuary (Chicago 7 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 & 2021)

“South of downtown Chicago—about 8.6 miles—is a vast, undeveloped area that sits along the Lake Michigan shoreline. There, benches and firepits and silence are all-encompassing. Local birders walk along a boardwalk, binoculars close to their faces, while others wander around the space’s lagoons. A mile further south is Rainbow Beach, named for the colored sand on its dunes.

“The area is rich with an untamed shoreline, free and open to the public like Chicago promised it always would be—but the future of the South Shore Nature Sanctuary hangs in an exhausted limbo.

“The sanctuary is straddled by the Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses, and plans to expand both into a single, PGA-caliber one by Tiger Woods’s design firm have been in the works since 2016. Efforts to privatize the untouched landscape and its ‘money shot’ view of the downtown skyline—one of the best in the city—for televised golf tournaments could eliminate the entire sanctuary. But not if locals can help it.

“‘There are people in the [South Shore] community who have organizations that bring out young people, bring out school students, and they’re basically saying, ‘This space is for you. This space belongs to you,'” Illinois state senator Robert Peters says of the sanctuary. ‘In a city in which people are worried about violence, why take away a place that represents peace?’

“But, since the initial golf course unveiling, its plans have seemingly been put on pause. All South Shore residents hear is radio silence. The reason for its delay is unknown; money might be tenuous, or maybe pushback from residents is working. But many locals say that what may be brewing behind the scenes could be devastating to their community—and the silence makes them even more worried.

“According to local activists, the design would remove 60 percent of the sanctuary’s trees, some as old as 150 years. After the Obama Presidential Center cut down nearly 800 trees in 2021 for construction in nearby Jackson Park, how many more can the area withstand?

“Susannah Ribstein, a South Shore resident, volunteer steward, and copresident of the South Shore Cultural Center Park Advisory Council, says the sanctuary’s location is what makes it so special. ‘It has 180-degree views north to the Chicago skyline and south to Indiana. It’s just a magnificent place to appreciate the power and beauty of our home on the Great Lakes,’ she says.

“‘I had absolutely no background or experience with stewardship or natural areas management,’ she says. ‘I just wanted to do my part to help as many people as possible in South Shore learn about this magical place, connect with it, and feel ownership over it.” She explains that the sanctuary is a ‘museum of native ecosystems,’ one that comprises all the midwest has to offer: prairies, dunes, savannas, pine woodlands, and wetlands. (Lane, Chicago Reader, 2/9/24)

Read the full story at Chicago Reader

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