The Ethnic Arts Fest one of Evanston's many lake front events.Photo by ERT Staff

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Breaking with a longstanding policy that strictly limits the number of events and event days on the lakefront, the Human Services Committee voted on Feb. 6 to give the green light to four additional events. Committee members indicated that they would be open to even more “low-impact” events, such as 5K runs or walks, in the future.

The move has been under discussion for months and follows on the heels of the successful Flying Turkey 5K race on Thanksgiving Day, an event that sold out while having very little impact on residents in the area.

The Special Events Policy and Guidelines limits to 12 the number of events that can take place on the lakefront each year, spread over 20 days. Director of Parks Doug Gaynor said that with annual recurring events filling up the annual agenda, it is virtually impossible for new events to crack the lineup. He said that 5K races, or similar “fun walks,” actually have low impact on the area, particularly in less busy months such as early spring or in the fall when the beaches are not open.

Low-impact events are different from the large festivals that span multiple days and bring thousands of people to the lakefront for hours on end. The Ethnic Art Festival, Lakeshore Art Festival and Fourth of July celebration present different challenges and impacts from a 5K race or a movie night, said Mr. Gaynor.

The Human Services Committee agreed. The four events added will be the Rotary International Race to the Finish on April 15, the Concerned Belizean Inc.’s Walk/Run for Education on June 3, the Evanston Running Club’s Half Marathon in July, and the expansion of the annual “Walk for Randy” 5K Family Walk, held in honor of former Northwestern Coach Randy Walker, to include a run as well.

The staff memo listed at least two events that “withdrew their applications due [to the maximum] number of lakefront events,” including the Venus de Miles Bike Ride and the Little Buddies walkathon. At the Human Services Committee, Mr. Gaynor said the organizers of five other events said they would not apply and would look elsewhere to hold their events.

Only Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, seemed reluctant to add to the roster of low-impact events on the lakefront. Weekends in June, July and August, she said, the lakefront is “just heavily used by families.”

Aldermen Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, and Grover both indicated the lakefront could handle more, especially in the spring and fall, and they encouraged Mr. Gaynor to reach out to some events that had withdrawn applications.

The Committee did not formally change the Special Event Policy. The vote on the four events listed was enough for Mr. Gaynor, however. “The action you’ve taken is a pretty good indicator that we can move forward,” he said.