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Acknowledging the City was at a crossroads on the issue, Evanston officials turned to Council members at their Sept. 20 meeting for direction on where the City’s second dog park should be located.

The City is down to one dog park, aptly named Pooch Park, on a 2.5 acre tract that runs along the North Shore Channel south of Main Street and north of Oakton Street, in a space shared with the Skokie Park District.

A dog beach operated for years just south of the Clark Street Beach, but high lake levels put it out of commission several years ago.

Evanston’s lakefront still rates as the preferred site for a dog park among dog owners. (RoundTable photo)

Officials held three well-attended virtual meetings starting in the spring, discussing options for a second dog park, with $110,000 in capital improvement funds set aside to be used for the project.

In online voting, dog owners and others overwhelmingly supported parks along the City’s lakefront as their choice for a new park.

Five choices for a new dog park

At the lakefront, Burnham Shores/Elliot Park, Dawes Park, Centennial Park and Clark Square all received “support” or “strongly support” ratings. The fifth site – far from the lake, in northwest Evanston – was Lovelace Park.

At the same time, residents in each of those areas strongly opposed a dog park, raising concerns about noise, odor, parking, pet waste and other matters, said City Engineer Lara Biggs in a presentation on the issue at the Council’s Sept. 20 meeting.

Also, she said, “there was concern that [establishing a dog park in any of those areas] would somehow disrupt the character of the historic nature of the lakefront.”

Biggs also pointed out that officials had received a lot of suggestions about establishing dual-use sites, to be used “partly for dogs part of the day and partly for humans the rest of the day.”

Staff, though, did not find those suggestions viable for legal reasons, she said, which stipulated that dog parks must be fenced off permanently and accessible only to permit holders.

“And so we’re sort of at a crossroads,” she told Council members, “where the staff is really seeking direction about how to proceed.”

She presented the Council several possible next steps:

  • Locating a dog park in an existing park with no City programming.
  • Locating a dog park in an existing park and displacing other City programming.
  • Acquiring a new property to develop as a dog park.
  • Not proceeding with another dog park and instead allocating that money elsewhere.

Lincoln Street Beach an option

In Council discussion, Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward Council member, after disclosing that she grew up as a dog owner and currently owns a dog, suggested the City might consider another option – establishing a dog park at Lincoln Beach at the east end of Lincoln Street.

The City and Northwestern University have been in dispute over ownership of the beach, which was created during the 1960s as part of the University’s expansion on the north end of its lakefill. 

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources stepped into the issue two years ago, declaring the beach belonged to the State, and advising the City and the University to enter into a memorandum of understanding acknowledging that fact.

Wynne proposed – “in the spirit of Barbara Janes,” she said – that the City explore the possibility.

Barbara Janes, who died Sept. 3, was a local activist and dog owner who strongly advocated that the City establish Lincoln Beach as the City’s new dog beach.

Responding to the suggestion, Biggs said she would like to get more information from the City’s Law Department.

Still, she said of Wynne’s proposal, “It is a theoretical possibility.”

“I’m not sure it’s one Northwestern would agree to, because they also use Lincoln Beach periodically,” she said.

In addition, “The only ready access to it right now is through Northwestern’s property so there are some logistical barriers that would have to be overcome that aren’t $110,000 worth of cost.”

“Well, I still think that is worth pursuing,” Wynne responded.

“Many people loved the dog beach when it did exist for their dogs.”

Clark Square neighbors object

As for opposition by residents to other lakefront sites, Wynne referred to Clark Square, off Sheridan Road and Kedzie Street, in the southeast ward, where, she said, opposition was strong.

“And it wasn’t necessarily because they didn’t want to live near a dog park …” she said.

Rather, “It’s because that park is one of the few open spaces along the lakefront that is really, truly passive. And I had one of the neighbors send me a list of all the ways that Clark Square Park, especially since the pandemic, is now used.

“There is an early morning Tai Chi class that meets there every day for seniors; there is a yoga class that meets there,” she said.

“There is a girls lacrosse [team] that uses that open space, because it’s hard to find large open space in the Third Ward. There are people who come and enjoy it because it isn’t a picnic area, so you can actually have some quiet. I was astounded at the number of different ways that people use the park.”

Twiggs Park at Dodge and Simpson Street is one of the sites that has received mention as the location for the City’s next dog park. (RoundTable photo)

Clark Square, Twiggs, Lincoln Beach discussed

Council member Cicely Fleming, whose 9th Ward is west of Clark Square, said she disagreed with Wynne about the location and believed Clark Square would make a “great, viable dog beach.”

“That is not my area of expertise, but it seems like the park could be gated off, as you described for a dog park,” she said to staff, “and still have some great space for people.”

As things stand now, however, she said she could support Twiggs Park as a location. Twiggs runs along the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District land, at Dodge Avenue and Simpson Street.

Fleming said the parking there is “probably not enough for all the people who have dogs who want to use it, but it does at least have some parking.”

“And I think, again, it can be used for many things, particularly for dogs,” she said. “In a gated space there’s still going to be plenty of space for people to do other activities.”

“I understand the neighbors might not love it, for a lot of reasons,” she said, “but then again, this is a town of 75,000 people, and people don’t love a lot of things and we have to make hard choices.”

First Ward Council member Clare Kelly backed Wynne in looking at exploring Lincoln Street Beach.

“I know many people go [there]. … For many reasons people prefer the beach, because, obviously, there’s the water there,” Kelly said.

She said without homes pressing up against that beach, “you won’t get the same pushback on a lakefront space. I know many, many people go to Wilmette to use the dog beach there and now they let everybody out – it’s right next to their swimming beach,” she said.

If a dog park were located at Lincoln Beach, she said, “I think that [site] could be accessed right at the end of Lincoln Street. It seems like it wouldn’t have to be too complicated, creating an entrance.”

Council members took no vote on the issue, which had been set for discussion only. City staff will explore the suggestion of Lincoln Beach as a possibility.

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.

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  1. Clark Square has no access to a beach, although it is adjacent to the water. It is *not* near Clark St. beach. (Evanston’s largest beach, which is now being encroached upon by NU). Clark Square is between Keeney and Kedzie, east of Sheridan. Despite my strong desire for a dog beach, that might be *the* most inappropriate site to have one. (I heartily agree with the surrounding home owners). The money allotted for an (unneeded) dog park should be given to create a site for a dog beach, if not in the same area it had been, (as the lake has been receding) then for consideration of several other sites that could used.
    Lincoln Street was once offered to the city by NU, according to info from the first meeting about it. Since then, the University received cooperation from the city for their welcome center and their reciprocal cooperation would be requested, though legally not necessary as Illinois state law prohibits a private entity from denying access to the shoreline.
    A newer beach has been created on the SE side of the bridge to the lakefill. It is not as large as Lincoln Street’s beach, but it would be easy to set up an entrance there. Another possibility could be to fence off the beach area directly in back of the Lighthouse. There would still be plenty of beach area for people at the beach at Harley Clarke. Money from the sale of dog beach passes could be donated to the Artists’ Bookhouse at Harley Clarke (since not one cent of Robt Crown’s $60 million price tag was allotted to the upkeep or renovation of the historic mansion and its gardens.)
    To say that our present 3 acre pooch park is inaccessible to most Evanston residents (it’s not!) and then offer Lovelace Park as a possible site is disingenuous. Way fewer Evanston residents would be able to walk to Lovelace Park than to the present dog park which is between Main and Oakton on the east side of the canal.
    The old dog beach is *not* “100 percent under water” as claimed in this article. There is a sandy entrance to it that is filled with debris and
    fenced off from the public. Some of the alleged $110,000 could be used to make the entrance to clean up the old dog beach and make it usable and accessible. On some days, the entire beach has returned.
    The only time(s) that the entire beach is “under water” is during storms, and, even then, it is a large shallow sandbar with the largest waves out pretty far. (This is 2021, not 2019)
    Mr. Hemingway was originally hired from out of state to be head of the dog beach. We have not had one since he came to Evanston.

  2. Two years ago the Evanston City Council decided to set aside some of the funds from Northwestern’s “Good Neighbor Fund” to plan and build a much needed and desired dog park in Evanston. The fenced in dog park was supposed to have been completed by October of this year.

    City staff, in good faith, embarked on a planning process that included extensive research about where a park should be located. The process included two very well attended public meetings (on zoom) as well as a resident survey that more than 1800 people completed. Interest in having a dog park in Evanston is very high!

    Clark Square, a beautiful lakefront park on Sheridan Road between Kedzie and Main streets, was the highest ranked site. It has parking, ample space, and a water fountain. Despite what Council Member Wynne claims, this park is woefully underutilized—rarely does one see more than a handful of people there. The dog park would only use a portion of the land (about one fourth), so there will still be plenty of room for folks to enjoy other activities there. The March 2021 survey results showed that, of the three parks recommended by city staff as possible dog park sites, considerably more residents supported the Clark Square location than the two other sites.
    The objections stated by Clark Square neighbors really come down to a privileged “not in my front yard” attitude.

    I view this as an equity issue: property owners along the lake do not own it. I don’t believe that a well-designed dog park, with attractive fencing, will “spoil the lakefront.” Indeed, the city should use the property to encourage residents not fortunate enough to live along the lake to have a reason to enjoy the lakefront as well. Other complaints from neighbors were that the park would “smell bad” and that there would be more garbage. Obviously these concerns can be addressed by careful planning and providing ample receptacles for dog waste.

    South Evanston is dense with multi-unit dwellings. Most dog owners in this area do not have the luxury of a fenced-in back yard where their dogs can run off-leash. Furthermore, many residents don’t own cars to transport their dogs to the Pooch Park, the sole off-leash option for Evanston dogs.

    Dogs, like humans, need to be socialized. This requires space to run and play with other dogs. If they are deprived of this they can develop anti-social and aggressive behaviors. Evanston dogs (and their owners) deserve better.

    Finally, a dog park at Clark Square would increase a positive sense of community.

    This dog park has been promised, planned and funded. Please don’t let this much needed community asset die by encouraging City Council to vote to move forward now.