Bruce Bahrmasel enjoys bike riding along the lakefront.

March 26   If Evanston officials were to follow in the direction of Chicago and close down the lakefront, some regular users of the area might not be happy by the decision but would accept it in light of the threat posed by the Coronavirus. Others, though, are hoping the City will not go that way, if only for mental health reasons.Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday, March 25, shut down parks and the entire lakefront.

Ms. Lightfoot was upset by the large gatherings she saw along the lakefront in the warmer weather and the skirting of social distancing rules which experts advise to avoid catching the disease.

With Mayor Lightfoot’ officially announcing a shutdown of Chicago’s lakefront parks, officials in Evanston are watching the situation, Interim City Manager Erika Storlie indicated at a special Council meeting March 26.

“We have not yet closed our lakefront, but we’ve been monitoring it,” she told City Council members. “I believe that with the cooler weather and the rain that is forecast for the next few days, we potentially could buy ourselves a few days before having to do that.”

“But also, I think that we have a lot of people out there who are sharing the information with people who are enjoying parks and the lakefront making sure that if they see groups congregating that they let them know,” Ms. Storlie said.

“The best thing that people can do,” she added, “is just share that and ask people to disperse and if they don’t, then call 3-1-1 or the non-emergency police number, and we’ll have an officer come by and try to try to help enforce that.”

A surprising number of devoted walkers, bikers and some runners were out using the Evanston lakefront earlier in the day, despite cooler temperatures and light rain.

Some walked in twos, pulling a dog, some walked solitary, listening through headphones.

A number whose lakefront use is part of their daily regimen, indicated a decision to shut down would be painful to accept.

“I live close to the lake so I’m almost a daily rider. This is my happy hour,” said Bruce Bahrmasel, an Evanston resident, stopping on his bicycle.

On the other hand, “I understand the concern, because yesterday was a very lovely day and there were a lot of kids clearly not adhering to the six-foot rule.”

“They’re teenagers, and they were embracing each other. It could be a cause for concern,” he explained.

If people could maintain a “respectful” distance, that is one thing, he said. “But I think once the weather improves, that [distance] might become less than that is respectful,” he offered.

Amy Hays  her daughter Lauren, and their dog Shep, a pup breed alongside said she walks the lake path daily, parking by Lee Street and then walking north all the way up to Northwestern and back.

“It’s an advantage of living here,” she said.

“It is a relief,” she said. “I do need to get here for my head.”

Yet, the day before, with more use because of the warmer weather, she and her daughter took different streets from the lake, wishing to avoid the congestion.

If officials were to move to close the area, “it would be unfortunate, but it is what is,” she said, her daughter seconding that view.

She indicated the decision would not go down easy, though.

“It’s [the lakefront is] gorgeous,” she said. “There are many streets in Evanston that are gorgeous so you don’t have to be at the lakefront. But to be honest, if you can’t walk around your neighborhood, and this is our neighborhood …,” she said, the two, and Shep, resuming their walk.

“I really don’t know what to think – I’m scared to death of this virus,” said Julie Gordon, another longtime resident, who had been walking in the opposite direction.

“I think people have got to get out and see something beautiful,” said Ms. Gordon.

She said she walks the path twice a day. “I worry about [greater use] when the weather gets warmer. and I worry if they close Chicago, many people from Chicago will come out to Evanston,” she said.

Overall, though, “I hope they can keep it open,” she said. “People need it as a morale booster.”

Frank Kelley, a Rogers Park resident who works in Evanston, was more definite on that point.

“I really don’t appreciate it [a closing], because beaches are public land, and that’s one reason I live near the beach,” he said.

“I think if people do their best to keep away from each other, keep their distance, it should be fine.”

He would have gone to the beach in Chicago that day, he said, “if I didn’t think I would be harassed.”

“You can’t be irresponsible. But I kind of feel they are taking away my freedom,” he said before riding away.
Evanston residents Karen Backe and son Atticus, 12, were making full use of the lakefront on the overcast day.

“We do all the stations [getting] some exercise while getting some fresh air “ she said, her son [gloves on] trying the arm-walk.

“It would be a real shame if all of us wouldn’t be able to use the lakefront,” she said, “because we all need the lake. I’m always very centered and feel mentally relaxed to be alongside it, and I feel if everyone just stays clear of each other we should be able to continue to use it.”

Walking from their house to the lakefront nearly every day, Ms. Backe said, “I have yet to see anything I thought was questionable behavior in this pandemic.”

She has seen a brighter mood, though, passing people in the area.

“I see a lot of smiles,” she said.

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.