Group discusses Gompers plan
by BRIAN NADIG
The possibility of installing a pedestrian and bicycle tunnel under Foster Avenue and making improvements along the North Branch of the Chicago River were 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 held by the Gompers Park Advisory Council in the park fieldhouse, 4222 W. Foster Ave. Future funding decisions may be based on recommendations in the framework plan, Foster said.
Foster said that a top concern about Gompers is safe accessibility because Foster divides the park into two sections. When the 39-acre park was created in the 1920s, Foster dead-ended at the spot where the fieldhouse is located, but 10 years later a bridge was built over the river and Foster was extended.
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 the park district is considering installing a tunnel under Foster which would allow trail users to avoid crossing the street.
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 be built over the river so that a portion of the trail would run through the underutilized area of the park that is north of the river and south of the Riversedge Terrace roadway.
Several residents also suggested that park district and county officials discuss the possibility of expanding the La Bagh Woods parking lot at Foster and Kilbourn avenues to the east so that it would be more convenient for park users and keeping the lot open after sunset. The park’s visitor lot is 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 weeds grow along and over the river. Some residents suggested that a safety fence be removed and that a boardwalk be created along the river.
"We should think of this as a river park," a resident said. Other residents said a lesser known feature of the park is a set of stepping stones which can be used to cross the river when the water level is low.
Residents also recommended 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 unsupervised restrooms have become frequent targets of vandalism in other parks.
Creation of a pathway between the fieldhouse and the playlot, which was rebuilt in 2012, also was recommended. A resident said that people leaving the fieldhouse usually enter the playlot from the sidewalk on Foster or a park pathway that runs north toward the river and around the baseball fields and then south toward the playground.
Some residents also called for nighttime football to be held at the park. The Gompers Park Athletic Association had lights installed around one of the baseball diamonds 2 years ago, but lights would have to be added to an adjacent diamond in order to create a lighted area that is large enough for football, according to council members.
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 the 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 council plans to have a second meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 30, at the fieldhouse, Stirk said.
Funding concerns should not affect which recommendations go into the plan since it will serve as a planning tool for a long time, Foster said. He said that the framework plan for Lincoln Park was created in 1995 and is still being used.
It also was reported that the park district is working with the city Department of Transportation to ensure that a flood relief tunnel near Foster and Pulaski will help the park. The tunnel, which is being installed primarily to relieve flooding in the Albany Park neighborhood to the east, will run under Foster for a mile from Field Park, 5100 N. Ridgeway Ave., to the North Shore Channel.