With Evanston’s dog beach down for the count this year and beyond, City officials have laid out a plan to find a new dog park somewhere off shore.

Lawrence Hemingway, the City’s Director of Parks, Recreation, and Community Service, started his presentation to the City Council’s Administration & Public Works Committee July 8, flipping between photographs of how the dog beach appeared in 2004 and currently.

The dog beach today, located near Church Street and the lakefront, because of rising lake levels, “is completely 100% under water,” he told aldermen.

Because of high water levels, too, “there is significant erosion that is continuing to impact the lakefront,” said Mr. Hemingway, showing another photograph on the Council’s overhead screen – this one of the gate that served as the entrance to the dog beach when it existed.

“What you’re seeing is the erosion that is taking place because of these high water levels that have made it a safety issue for folks that enter,” he said.

“This picture doesn’t show it,” he said, referring to the photograph, “but that’s about a 12-inch drop. What used to be sand is now gone because of the erosion due to the high water levels.”
Because of that, “there’s no short term remediation from a department perspective,” he said. 
“The beach has been closed,” he told aldermen. “You know normally we’ve left the dog beach open the last two years even though it wasn’t collecting any revenue, because there were small swatches of sand. That’s no longer an option,” he said.

Dog beach revenues have plummeted as lake levels have shot up. The City hit its high mark in dog beach revenues in 2012, selling 1,020 passes, generating  $68,410. Since then the revenues have been on a sharp incline except for a slight rebound in 2017.
In 2018 and this year, the number of passes sold and revenue collected is zero and zero.

Carving out a portion of one of the City’s swimming beaches  for dogs  is not  an option,  either, said Mr. Hemingway and Ike Ogbo, the City’s interim director of  Health and Human Services.

State law prohibits dogs’ being on the same beach as human beings for health reasons. Evanston City Codes also disallow cats and dogs to be on public beaches except at a designated dog beach, officials said.

Officials are working on a plan on how the City would proceed on designating another dog park. Currently, Evanston pet owners share Pooch Park with dog-owners from Skokie. That park runs along , along the North Shore Channel in the far southwest side of the City, noted Lara Biggs, the City’s Engineering and Capital Planning Bureau Chief, taking part in the presentation.
“But,” she said, “The question is, ‘How do we make one that is more conveniently located for our residents?’”

“There is a lot of information out there about the rating criteria that different places have used to develop dog parks,” she said.

They include such questions, she said, as “What’s the minimum-sized area that is appropriate to have dogs in?” “What is the fencing situation?” “How far away should it be from residential homes?”

“We  would basically identify and evaluate the set criteria for the City of Evanston to establish a dog park,” she said, “Then we could look at our existing parks, other City properties that have space on them and evaluate those spaces to see what would be appropriate to locate a dog park.”

“I think it’s going to be challenging to find that really perfect location, so we’re going to need to come up with comparisons about the sites which best fit our situation,” she said, “and we may need to look at available private property that is on the market as well.”

The longest phase of any plan will involve engaging the community in discussion and getting feedback. “We feel like that would be a really important part of finding a dog park,” she said. The staff timeline calls for that phase to occur between March and April of next year, leading up to City Council approval on how to proceed in September 2020.

Under the timeline, construction would take place between June 2021 and October 2021, with a dog park opening in October 2021.

Bob Seidenberg

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.