The first public presentation about the proposed renovation of the sledding hills at James Park took place on June 2 at the Levy Senior Center, attracting a crowd of about ten Evanston residents.

Stephanie Levine, landscape architect for the City, will head the proposed project. She said she will be seeking sources in addition to the $500,000 reserved for the endeavor in this year’s capital improvement budget to cover the potentially $2.6 million project.

Two sources for the first stage of the project are the issuance of $700,000 in General Obligation bonds and a possible $400,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Because of recent liability issues, including multiple lawsuits, the City has taken measures to keep the middle section of the hill, known as the “big hill,” off-limits to climbing or sledding. These measures have included an increase in signs warning of personal injury that can occur on the hill, a tornado warning and a lighted safety system, and private security personnel guarding the site. However, several residents at the meeting said the problems of sledding and illicit activity such as drinking on the back side of the hill continue.

Other problems include soil erosion, which makes conditions more treacherous; the steepness of the big hill; the risk of ice formation during the winter sledding season; thick overgrowth of foliage at access points; and possibly insufficient lighting.

To address these problems, the City has proposed a two-phase plan to make all the hills on Mt. Trashmore usable again and to make the place safer and handicapped-accessible. To do this, the City would renovate the stairs and fences on either side of the big hill and create a series of handicapped-accessible boardwalks leading to a viewing platform near the top.

In the first stage, with an estimated cost of $1.1 million, Ms. Levine proposed a number of additions to, and renovations of, the existing hills. These proposals included shortening the big hill by 20-25 feet and allowing sledding there once more; consolidating two sledding areas for better monitoring; adding lighting for maximum visibility; and providing a stage at the eastern-most hill for the summer Starlight Concerts. Other safety measures include constructing new stairs and fences on either side of the big hill and stone retaining walls to prevent erosion.

The second phase would include the construction of the viewing platform, the addition of landscaping at the south, east and west fill faces, and the construction of a rail or steep fence to prevent park-goers from going up and down the back side of the hill. This phase, with an estimated cost of $1.5 million dollars, does not yet have a means of funding.

Despite the small attendance at the meeting, many concerns were raised by residents determined to increase safety while still maintaining their familiar park. Peter Wyle raised concerns about night-sledding and drinking on the hill. “I think,” he said, “you’re giving them [the drinkers and night-sledders] a much better place to hide.”

Another resident agreed, saying, “This is just a path for nighttime activity for people to do whatever they want.” However, former Ninth Ward Alderman Anjana Hansen and Ms. Levine both said those are problems with the enforcement of City ordinances, not with funding.

Another Evanston resident who wished to remain anonymous brought up the issue of maintenance, saying, “The park slides into disrepair. … We don’t maintain anything.” Once again, the concern for funding arose. Ami DeMarco of the Recreation Board responded saying, “The problem is funds. We shouldn’t build it if we can’t keep it up … but it’s a money issue.”

Ms. Levine said the City plans to hold a meeting in the fall and possibly other meetings before the project’s estimated start in summer/fall of 2010.