The master concept plan for the City’s beaches and shoreline received City Council approval at the Jan. 28 meeting. The plan passed unanimously and without comment at the Council meeting, having been approved at a special Planning and Development Committee meeting the week before.

Representatives from the landscape design company EDAW, the City’s consultants, presented the plan at several different public meetings last November. The plan could give a jump-start to the City’s obtaining $550,000 in state funds for pedestrian and bicycle paths between Clark and Lee streets. A master plan had to be in place for the City to obtain the funds, said Doug Gaynor, superintendent of Parks/Forestry and Recreation for the City.

The bike paths are discrete in the new plan, with the pedestrian path on the east side of the parks, closer to the lake, and the bicycle paths on the west side, closer to Sheridan Road.

Structural Changes

Other highlights of the plan – which could take decades to implement – include water-trail landings for kayakers and canoeists; an overlook and bird sanctuary just east of the City’s waterworks; a great lawn at Clark Street Beach stretching from Sheridan Road to the water; structural enhancements along the Dawes Park lagoon to withstand pedestrian traffic generated by the lakefront festivals; a revamped playground at Garden Park; and the narrowing of the south part of Evanston’s section of Sheridan Road, at the curve by the lakefront, reducing it to one lane in each direction and adding pedestrian and bicycle lanes.

The plan contemplates the continued use of both motorized and non-motorized water craft. The Church Street boat ramp would be reconfigured and expanded, according to the plan, and the storage for non-motorized boats at Dempster Street would also be reconfigured.

Natural Plantings

While the plan was being drafted, public discussion centered on whether the lakefront should have more passive (“natural”) or active (“multigenerational”) uses. The final plan appears to favor passive uses: Natural landscaping is enhanced, restored or even implemented, with dune ecology where possible closest to shore.

At the waterworks bird-sanctuary overlook, natural trees, grasses and other plantings would replace the invasive species such as buckthorn. Further south, the plan suggests a “magic hedge,” a thick row of native plants and grasses that would require minimal upkeep and would be attractive to wild migrating birds.

Shoreline: Vistas and Access

The plan does triple duty – opening up views of the lake by rearranging or replacing the rip-rap (rock piles), mandating that all beaches and washrooms be ADA-accessible and restricting access to the lake, as now, with small buildings housing washrooms, showers and possibly refreshment stands where people can present their tokens.

Rip-rap can be replaced by dune ecology where possible, such as Clark Street Beach and the Dempster Street area. In other places, such as Clark Square and Garden Park, the rocks can be placed lower to allow a more expansive view of the lake.


In addition to the natural plantings that would thrive in the Evanston climate and require minimal upkeep, the plan incorporates sustainable elements in its recommendations for buildings and for parking surfaces. Green roofs on the washrooms and other necessary buildings and pervious pavers, which allow storm water to seep into the ground, and bioswales – rows of trees and shrubs amidst parking areas – which allow storm-water runoff or drainage back into the ground are recommended.


Under the plan, parking is to be improved but not expanded. While some parking will be reconfigured, the plan also adds handicapped parking at Clark Street Beach near Northwestern University and drop-offs for public transportation further south, thereby increasing accessibility to the beaches. Parking will be reconfigured near Church Street for the boat launch and near Dempster Street, and the parking at Patriot’s Park was eliminated. Overall, however, the number of parking spaces along the lakefront stays the same.


Part of the area lies within the Lakeshore Historic District, and the plan calls for any structures at the lakefront to reflect the style and character of the area. The City’s Preservation Commission did not weigh in on the plan itself. Carlos Ruiz, director of preservation for the City, said the Commission will make a recommendation about any City project within the historic district.

Approval of the plan still allows for later revisions, and the plan will be implemented in increments as funding is available. As approved, the plan encompasses both years and miles.

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...