Park District seeks input on Gompers Park
by BRIAN NADIG
The possibility of a pedestrian/bicycle tunnel under Foster Avenue and enhancements along the North Branch of the Chicago River were among the recommendations made at an Oct. 16 meeting on the creation of a long-term “framework plan” for Gompers Park.
“We want to know the good at the park, what you don’t like about the park, and the long-term vision,” Chicago Park District senior project manager Bob Foster told 20 people who attended a planning meeting hosted by the Gompers Park Advisory Council. Future funding decisions may be based on recommendations in the framework plan, he said.
Foster said that a top concern about Gompers is safe accessibility given that Foster divides the park into two halves. When the 39-acre park was created in the 1920s, Foster dead-ended where the fieldhouse is located, but 10 years later the Foster bridge was built.
Foster said that the park district has had discussions with the Cook County Forest Preserve District about continuing the North Branch Trail into Gompers Park to Pulaski Road and that he envisions a tunnel under Foster which would allow bicyclists to avoid crossing Foster. He said that the tunnel should be wide enough so that users feel safe.
The county is planning to extend the bicycle trail from Downtown Edgebrook to La Bagh Woods, which is adjacent to the park. Some residents recommended that bridges over the river be built so that a portion of the bike trail would run through the underutilized area of the park which is located north of the river and south of Riversedge Terrace roadway.
Several residents also suggested that the park district discuss with the county the possibility of expanding the La Bagh Woods parking lot at Foster and Kilbourn avenues to the east so that it would be convenient for park users and to keep the lot open after sunset. The park’s visitor lot is located south of Foster near Carmen and Keeler avenues.
Advisory Council Framework Plan Committee Chairman Michael Stirk said that the river is one of the park’s best assets but that at times it is difficult to notice because of the evasive plants which grown along and over the river. Some residents recommended that a safety fence be removed and that a boardwalk be created along one side of the river.
“We should think of this as a river park. It’s one of our greatest assets,” one man said. Some residents said that one of the park’s hidden gems is a series of stepping stones which can be used to cross the river when the water level is low.
Also recommended were a band shell or gazebo for community concerts, more bathroom facilities, an ice skating rink and a dog run, which some residents said could be installed where the underutilized roller hockey rink is located. Foster said that the bathrooms would be listed in the plan but that he unsupervised restrooms have become frequent targets of vandalism in other parks,
The creation of a pathway inside the park leading directly from the fieldhouse, to the playlot, which was rebuilt in 2012, also was recommended. A woman said that families leaving the fieldhouse will usually enter the playlot from the sidewalk on Foster or a park pathway that runs north toward the river and around the baseball fields before heading back south toward the playground.
Some residents also called for nighttime football to be offered at the park. Two years ago the Gompers Park Athletic Association had lights installed around one of the baseball diamonds, but lights would have to be added to a neighboring diamond in order to create a lighted area that was large enough for football, according to council members.
In addition, several residents said that they would like to see fishing continue as a park activity, but they expressed concern that some users are damaging the vegetation and fence along the lagoon because they are not fishing in a designated area.
The park district is asking residents who live within a mile of the park to list their recommendations for the park at www.improvechiparks.com. The advisory council plans to have a follow-up meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 30, Stirk said.
Funding concerns should not affect which recommendations go into the plan since it will serve as an important planning too for a long time, Foster said. The framework plan for Lincoln Park was formed in 1995 and is still being used, he said.
It also was reported that the park district is working with the city Department of Transportation to ensure that a planned flood relief tunnel near Foster and Pulaski will help the park, which is located on a flood plain. The tunnel is being installed primarily to relieve flooding in the Albany Park neighborhood to the east and will run under Foster or a mile from Field Park, 5100 N. Ridgeway Ave., to the North Shore Channel.