The Ethnic Arts Fair attracts large crowds in July, and is regarded as a high impact event along the Lakefront. Photo By Mary Mumbrue

At 9 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning, more than 1,500 people gathered at Dawes Park on the lakefront to run what has been called the “first annual” Flying Turkey 5K. By 11 a.m. or so, everyone had cleared out and quiet returned. The success of the event, coupled with a lack of overall public use of the lakefront in late November, has public officials, including Seventh Ward Alderman Jane Grover (whose ward includes Lighthouse Beach), talking about loosening the low-impact restrictions on events by the lake. 

Evanston’s Special Events Policy and Guidelines currently sets a limit of 12 events spread over 20 event days on the lakefront. Because each of the current events expects to continue year after year, there is no hope for any new events under the current structure. Ald. Grover, at call of the wards during the Nov. 28 City Council meeting, trumpeted the success of the Flying Turkey and asked staff to revisit the 12- event limit. 

At the Dec. 5 Human Services Committee meeting, Douglas Gaynor, director of Parks, Recreation and Community Service, announced that staff was undertaking a complete reworking of the special events policy. Some events, such as the Rotary Staff picnic and the Duck Race and Pluck, have very limited impact on the neighborhood. Others, such as the Ethnic Arts Festival, the Lakeshore Arts Festival, and Fourth of July fireworks, have a tremendous impact, he said. He proposed loosening the restriction on low-impact events while remaining mindful of the impact the larger events have. As an example of a low-impact event, he cited a wedding, at which about 100 people spend about an hour on the beach then move on to the reception.  

Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, agreed, saying she liked the idea of “many more” low impact events on the lakefront. Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, said there should be a separate category for small, family events.  

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, urged caution. She called the proposed changes represent “a major policy change” and said that “it behooves all of us to do it correctly.” She called for a delay in taking any action until after her ward meeting the following evening, Dec. 6. 

Because the item was on the Human Services Committee agenda for discussion only, no action was to be taken on Dec.5. The committee, through Alds. Grover and Tendam, asked Mr. Gaynor to return with definitions of “high impact” and “low impact” events. A proposed number of events and event days would likely accompany the definitions. 

At the Dec. 6 First Ward meeting, Mr. Gaynor presented the proposed shift to about 30 First Ward residents, but there were no questions on the Special Event policy proposal.

 Ald. Grover called the Flying Turkey event a great success, adding that its focus on fitness and community wellness made it all the more encouraging. Fire Chief Greg Klaiber finished the race in under 21 minutes and 17th overall, third in his age group. Elliott Wineburg of Chicago Sports Media, the event’s producer, said all spots were sold out and that the race had to turn away “about a hundred” people who were trying to sign up because there were simply no more spots available. The race took place entirely on the bike and pedestrian paths, meaning no roads were closed. 

With proposals in the very early stages, there is no predicting how many more such events could take place next year. The Flying Turkey is the only foot race that takes place entirely in the lakefront (the Ricky Byrdsong Race Against Hate being partially in the lakefront before finishing elsewhere). The Human Services Committee, and City staff, seem in agreement that the lakefront can handle at least a few more.