Dog beach September 2009               RoundTable photo

Rising lake levels may sink use of Evanston’s current Dog Beach for not only this year but beyond.

Lawrence Hemingway, the City’s Director of Parks, Recreation and Community Services, provided an update on the issue to the City Council’s Human Services Committee at the March 4 meeting.

Mr. Hemingway supported his report with historical data compiled by the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory on Great Lakes water levels.

The area experienced a record 15 years of low lake levels starting in the late 1990s. The low levels allowed the City to establish a dog beach to the north of the Church Street boat launch.

But wet conditions in 2013 and 2014 brought an end to that trend, with levels rising since then.

Officials say they cannot be certain of which way the levels will go, “but all of the projections are projecting high water levels,” Mr. Hemingway told the committee. “So  it may be one year, it may be a few years – it may be 10 years that the current space we call the dog beach may not be available to us.”

Ald. Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said she requested the report because of the importance of the beach to dog owners as well as the revenue it generates for the City. Officials report that about 1,000 dog owners bought permits to use the beach, generating roughly $60,000 in revenue.

Mr. Hemingway told the committee that in 2016, when high water levels forced the closing of the regular dog  beach, staff found  a strand of beach remaining  just south of the boat launch. But that is no longer there, he said. Last year, because of water levels, the City did not open the beach for operation but allowed access to the space. “There would be days when there was a sliver of sand, or no sand, but the community still used the space,” he reported.

“So our options in our existing lakefront infrastructure are limited,” he said.

At one time, the City also explored space near its water treatment facility, located off the lake at 555 Lincoln St., but that was ruled out because of federal regulations governing activity close to those areas.

 “We’re trying to come up with something,” Mr. Hemingway told committee members.  “Once the ice cover melts, if the opportunity presented itself to us, we absolutely would try to make something work.”

During citizen comment, several speakers asked about the possibility of Lincoln Street Beach, located at the end of Lincoln Street, being used as a dog beach. Over the past year, the City, Northwestern University, and the State have been in talks about ownership of that beach.

At the March 4 meeting, Kathleen McCain, addressing the committee, said dog owners are interested in use of that beach, “whenever and when the City and its largest non-taxpayer and the State determine what might happen to that beach.”

She also suggested that the Dog’s Beach’s money-making potential might figure in the City’s taking other actions to create a beach. “Maybe it’s a little dredging, but it’s important to provide this service,” said Ms. McCain, a dog owner since moving to Evanston in 1985.

Corrine Clarkson, another speaker, spoke of the importance of a dog beach.

“Dogs have become important members of many families,” she told committee members. “Dogs need exercise and mental stimulation. Mental stimulation also provides human stimulation. And we would take them to the dog beach for that.”

“The Dog Beach also enables other owners to socialize,’’ she said. “We get to know each other and many times end up socializing outside the Dog Beach.”

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.