Walk, Don’t Gawk, When You Go Out To The Lakefront Trail Today

photo of lakefront social distancing ambassador
A social distancing ambassador wears a shirt that says “Keep It Moving” as they walk Chicago’s Lakefront on June 22, 2020. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ
photo of lakefront social distancing ambassador
A social distancing ambassador wears a shirt that says “Keep It Moving” as they walk Chicago’s Lakefront on June 22, 2020. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

Walk, Don’t Gawk, When You Go Out To The Lakefront Trail Today

WBEZ is chronicling Illinois’ road to recovery, bringing you stories of people and places moving on from COVID-19.

Get your jogging shoes laced.

The city of Chicago Monday reopened the popular Lakefront and 606 trails to runners, walkers and cyclists.

But city officials warn “keep it moving” — this isn’t for partying. The city says patrons should maintain six feet of distance and stay in motion when on the trails, saying beaches, parks and playgrounds, as well as parking lots nearby, will remain closed for the time being. No picnics, no coolers, no grilling, no swimming, the city says.

The Park District is using its existing 300 lifeguards as “social distancing ambassadors,” though they’re hoping to increase that number to 1,000 SDAs in the next few months. Those ambassadors are responsible for telling people the new rules of the Lakefront, including staying 6 feet apart. They’re currently staffing the Lakefront in two shifts from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.

photo of social distancing ambassadors at North Beach
Social distancing ambassadors patrol North Beach on June 22, 2020. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

“We want to keep it moving, keeping people physically active and healthy, but in a safe way,” said Colleen Lammel-Harmon, a senior project manager with the park district.

Many Chicagoans on the lakefront Monday said they weren’t even aware the trail was closed to begin with.

“I’m not going to lie, it got kind of confusing where you really didn’t know what was open and what was closed, whether you were supposed to walk or not,” said South Shore resident Kimberly Mitchem, who said she’s been taking walks on the lakefront throughout the past few months it’s been closed.

She was happy to see people keeping a distance as they jogged or walked along the lake. And although the new “social distancing ambassadors” have been the target of social media mocking, being dubbed “hall monitors,” Chicagoans on the trail at 63rd Street Beach were happy to see them out Monday.

“I definitely don’t think we need to use Chicago Police for this,” said Chicagoan Pat Edmonds, who was out for a morning walk Monday. “The ambassadors are good enough, because most of us want to comply.”

The return of humans to the trails — at least on an official capacity — may be a disappointment to some wildlife that have taken up more public residence along the trails. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources advises that anyone who goes out Monday should observe, but not interact, with the critters.

“There’s no need to feed wildlife or try to rescue it,” said Ben Williams with IDNR. “I think just feeling good about seeing some wildlife that maybe you don’t normally see is what we should be doing.”

Lightfoot has said that to keep limits on how many people are on the trails, some access points will remain closed. Additionally, some construction and washed out areas may force exercisers off the path at some places. 

photo of warning signs
A sign warns trail visitors of hazardous conditions. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

The trails have been closed since late March as the city tried to contain the spread of COVID-19. The city has been gradually reopening, with restaurants on tap for indoor seating by the end of the week, if estimates of the state’s next reopening phase hold true.

Mariah Woelfel is a general assignment reporter at WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter @MariahWoelfel.