Northerly Island upgrades make way for more urban campers to pitch their tents
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter email@example.com August 15, 2012 9:36PM
Updated: September 17, 2012 1:02PM
Nearly a decade after then-Mayor Richard M. Daley’s infamous midnight destruction of Meigs Field, Northerly Island is poised to become more of the urban camping center that Daley envisioned.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will develop the southern 40 acres of Northerly Island, thanks to a $2.8 million federal grant and $1.5 million in Park District revenues generated by the concert venue at Northerly Island.
To pave the way for a dramatic increase in camping, kayaking, sailing, fishing and other outdoor activities, the Army Corps is expected to restore shoreline habitats, coastal wetland, “coastal plant communities” and install a pond hydraulically controlled through Lake Michigan ground water.
A multi-purpose trail, nature trails, boardwalks, camping areas, viewpoints, rolling hills, native plantings and tree plantings are also planned, as part of the ambitious project, sources said.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Park District Superintendent Michael Kelly are scheduled to hold a news conference at the Field Museum on Thursday to announce the upgrades.
The work is expected to begin in November and be completed in the spring of 2014, followed by a five-year maintenance program.
Northerly Island is currently open to camping four times a year, with 40 spots available for reservations by families, individuals or groups. That’s 160 camping opportunities.
After the improvements, 900 camping slots will be added to the mix. That is, camping will be offered six times annually with 100 slots available with another 300 reservations set aside for children’s groups.
Camping slots will be earmarked for “at risk” inner city kids, many of whom have never before had the opportunity to camp out.
The 300 camping slots for kids will be reserved for 12- to 15-year-olds in the Wilderness Camping Program and timed to coincide with schedule breaks for year- round schools. Participants will get two weeks of instruction in sailing, survival skills, shelter and fire building and leave with a sleeping bag, a fishing pole and a compass.
And there’ll be a lot more opportunities for kayaking, sailing, fishing and other outdoor activities.
In 2010, the Chicago Park District unveiled plans for a dramatic makeover of the island that once housed Meigs Field.
It would expand Northerly Island’s nature sanctuary to Lake Michigan with a series of offshore reefs — complete with a sunken ship — that would create a water playground for swimmers, divers and kayakers.
It also called for the old Meigs Field terminal building to be closed and transformed into an outdoor shelter for hikers. The Charter One Pavilion, an outdoor arena used only in summer months, would be replaced.
The ambitious plan was billed as a “framework” for a decades-long rehab of the island, which is really a man-made peninsula.
There was no estimate on how much an overhaul of the 91-acre sanctuary would cost or how the city would pay for it.
In March, 2003, Daley infamously sent bulldozers in after midnight to carve giant X’s into Meigs’ only runway in March 2003.
When the concept plan was unveiled, Daley praised it as “great” and said it would flesh out his vision for the “largest open space in the city of Chicago along the Great Lakes.’’
Bob O’Neill, who heads the Grant Park Conservancy, called the island a getaway from the city’s urban core, especially at the southern end of the peninsula where the reefs would be created.
“It will be like visiting Michigan or Wisconsin — in a remote area — except maybe when you turn around and see the skyline,’’ he said then.
O’Neill also praised the planned dismantling of the former terminal building, which he said will protect migratory birds from crashing into its large glass windows