The beach at the end of Lincoln Street is now officially open to Evanston residents who have beach tokens or who pay the daily fee. The City of Evanston and Northwestern University plan to craft a memorandum of understanding about operational details and maintenance responsibilities of the beach area. A July 20 memo from City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz and Corporation Counsel Michelle Masoncup, however, indicates that the City does not know who owns the beach. The memo said, “Cook County records indicate that Lincoln Street Beach falls well within the municipal boundaries of the City of Evanston. … The Law Department is in communications with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources – Office of Water Resources, the U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers District Legal Counsel, and Northwestern University’s Office of General Counsel. To date, the City does not have any documentation providing proof of ownership but will continue to research the ownership of the beach parcel and tentatively plans to return to the City Council with an update in September 2018.”

After Northwestern expanded its campus into the lake in 1962, drifting sand accreted along the north end of the lakefill, creating the beach. Under the federal public trust doctrine, by which certain natural and cultural resources are preserved for public use, this would be a public beach.

At the July 23 City Council meeting, Jeff Smith, a local attorney in private practice who has handled cases involving the public trust doctrine, said, “There is no question about who owns the beach, according to the [Illinois] Rivers, Lakes and Streams Act. It was never conveyed to Northwestern. It’s just another piece of public property that the City hasn’t been maintaining for several years.” That act, he said, codifies the public trust doctrine for Illinois.

Northwestern, though, has considered it a private beach for its faculty, staff and students. Known as the “Northwestern Beach,” it was closed for several years for the construction of the athletic complex but was officially reopened this year as “Lincoln Street Beach,” an Evanston beach.

The memorandum of understanding, drafted but not yet approved by City Council, would give Northwestern the responsibility of maintaining and staffing the beach, and the City the responsibility for grading it. The beach, further, is to be “accessible to all individuals that held City beach tokens or paid daily admission.” There is no public parking near the beach, however, and until 4 p.m., beach-goers have to pay the $8 fee to park in the Northwestern garage.

It appears that some kinks still need to be worked out.

A letter to the RoundTable received last week said, “When I was on the newly opened NU beach the other day, I was not allowed to walk beyond direct sight of the entrance booth. I was the only person there, fully dressed, collecting seaglass, with three overly dutiful staff on duty, and they chased after me as I walked along the beach telling me to stay in the middle of the beach area. It was so unpleasant and unnecessary, I left.”

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...