The Push To Make Chicago’s Lakefront A National Park

Chicago Lakefront Trail
Chicago Lakefront Trail Bernt Rostad/Flickr
Chicago Lakefront Trail
Chicago Lakefront Trail Bernt Rostad/Flickr

The Push To Make Chicago’s Lakefront A National Park

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Yellowstone. Yosemite. Grand Canyon. And Chicago’s Lakefront?

The group Preservation Chicago wants to make the city’s lakefront and its nearby parks a National Park.

While there are only 61 such parks across the country, the latest to be designated is in our area. Indiana Dunes National Park joined the party on February 15 of this year.

Morning Shift talks with the architect of this thought-provoking idea.

Why the group is proposing a National Park in Chicago

Ward Miller: The Chicago lakefront has been always understood to be forever open and free to everyone, and it’s an amazing resource on the Great Lakes of course, and it deserves to be protected. We’ve seen a number of instances recently where there have been park giveaways, land giveaways. First it was the Children’s Museum that was going to take a prominent place in Grant Park, and then it became the Lucas Museum as many people remember, and now the Obama Presidential Center. And we welcome that center to Chicago, but not in historic Jackson Park.

What areas the National Park would include

Miller: We’d like to begin at Hollywood on the North Side and extend it all the way to the former U.S. Steel Southworks site, which is a brownfield at the far South end of the city, and to encourage an expansion and protection of that greenway.

How the Obama Presidential Center fits in to this story

Jenn White: Preservation Chicago supports the Obama Presidential Center, but you’re against having it built on public land in Jackson Park, so how much of this idea is about drawing attention to your stated wishes about the Obama Center?

Miller: That’s an important issue right now. We’re talking about 20 acres of land that would be given to a private foundation. It sets a dangerous precedent. Plus, we’re talking about the removal of 200 trees, some of them old-growth, and really affecting the landscape in a big way with backhoes and really tearing up a Frederick Law Olmsted landscape, and he is the best of the best…We’re encouraging the Obama Foundation about moving the nearby private lands and expanding the park onto those lands.

How realistic is this idea?

White: National Parks typically seek to protect and preserve natural areas, but very few of them are anywhere near a city, let alone in a city, a major city like Chicago. How realistic is this idea?

Miller: I think this is a very realistic idea. It’s in the very beginning stages, but remember, President Obama himself was here and pushed with Mayor Emanuel and a lot of elected officials to designate Pullman as a National Park and a National Monument. And that was just two years ago. So, it seems like the idea of protecting natural resources designed by one of the world’s great landscape architects and others would be a good idea. It would protect the lakefront.

GUEST: Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago

LEARN MORE: Preservationists Want To Turn Chicago’s Lakefront Into A National Park (Curbed Chicago 5/20/19)