Every inch of Chicago’s lakefront has been shaped by human hands. Transforming a swampy scrub into terrain suitable for a major metropolis is no small project, and the contours of the shore have been aggressively adjusted to make space. The South Shore Country Club was established in 1905 as an exclusive enclave for the wealthy. The story of its complicated relationship with the neighborhood that grew up around it is well-documented. It had a happy moment when, in the 1970s, community advocates won the fight to preserve it as a public park and cultural center. The beautiful main building is well-known, but the rest of its grounds are less so. At least 38 acres – about 57% of the park – is golf course, unsurprising given its country club past. But northeast of the building, accessible only via a circuitous route through driveways and parking lots, is a quiet beach. And on a spit of land extending out beyond that beach is a small slice of heaven: the South Shore Nature Sanctuary. There is nothing historic about the nature sanctuary. Its creation was championed by community groups and environmental organizations, who wrote it into the 1999 South Lakefront Framework Plan. It was designed by Wolff Clements and Associates and constructed in 2002 at a reported cost of $500,000. It has won several awards and grants since. In a sense, there is even something fundamentally unnatural about it: it sits atop a massive mound of rubble, a decades-long archive of busted sidewalks and broken street lamps placed to keep the beach from migrating to Indiana. And yet, what has grown on these three acres over the past 15 years of careful stewardship is as close an approximation to nature as you might find within the city limits. A path leads from the beach into a series of dunes, their sands restrained by the roots of tenacious grasses waving in the breeze. The trail loops gently through the full range of northeastern Illinois’ native ecosystems. Dunes cascade down to a small wetland, where ducks swim beneath the picturesque boardwalk. Native trees ring the perimeter, screening out the city beyond. And in this refuge grows a prairie whose native grasses and wildflowers welcome the myriad birds that migrate along the lakefront. At the distal point of the peninsula, two fire rings emerge, limestone outcroppings from the prairie. Built in the organic style of the famed Jens Jensen, they are the welcoming hearths on which the bonds of community are forged. It is not uncommon to find both in use on a pleasant evening, playing host to gatherings of friends and neighbors, from quiet reveries to lively parties. All along the northern edge of the peninsula, an ever-shifting palette of vegetation alternately obscures and frames the most dramatic of skyline views. There is no better vantage point to take in the rich colors of a sunset, or the shimmering fireworks whose staccato rhythms demarcate Chicago summers. But what the Chicago Park District gives, the Chicago Park District can take away. Having proven that this unlikely peninsula can sustain a paradise, an ostensibly higher and better use has been conceived. Plans to merge the historic golf courses in Jackson Park and the South Shore Cultural Center have put this sanctuary on borrowed time. The fire circles and prairie are slated to make way for hole 12. For the sake of a few seconds of television footage with skyline views, during some hypothetical future professional golf tournament, the nature must go. They claim they’ll replace the acreage elsewhere – but even if so, what will be lost? The labors of the many who came together to create this sanctuary? The more than half a million dollars of public funds invested to build and nurture it? The prime location with unmatched iconic skyline views, along a lakefront that is supposed to be reserved for public use? The ecosystems that have developed over the past 15 years? These are all things of value, nearly irreplaceable, and not to be destroyed lightly. Golf already claims the lion’s share of the South Shore Cultural Center and the south end of Jackson Park. It muscles aside nature and the public alike so that paying players can launch balls hundreds of feet across manicured lawns. Yet this exclusive and resource-intensive sport demands more – more land, choicer locations, skyline views. The South Shore Nature Sanctuary is a marvelous resource for the community and our environment. Why allow it to be taken away for the exclusive use of golfers? I doubt this was the future that the Coalition to Save the South Shore Country Club had in mind when they fought to make it “a palace for the people.”
- Visit southshoresanctuary.tumblr.com for the latest updates!
- Contact your Chicago alderman. The park is in the 5th Ward, but aldermen generally prefer to hear only from constituents in their own wards – and this park is a treasure for the whole city
- Share your thoughts with Park District Superintendent Mike Kelly (email@example.com) and Chicago Parks Golf Alliance Co-Director Brian Hogan (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Provide a comment on the official South Lakefront Framework Plan website. Note that comments are limited in length, and there is no assurance that critical comments will be heeded or responded to in any way.
- Share this post with your friends and neighbors to help spread the word!
- Coalition to Save the South Shore Country Club (CSSSCC) Archives
- Project description by Wolff Landscape Architecture
- South Shore Nature Sanctuary on Tumblr
- 1999 South Lakefront Framework Plan [PDF]
- “Will Tiger Woods golf course displace South Shore nature sanctuary?” (Chicago Tribune, 6/28/2017)