Link: News-Sun Story
By Steve Sadin
Lake County News-Sun
May 30, 2023 at 1:35 pm
As a young boy, Vance Wyatt learned the hard way why the North Chicago beach was shuttered over a century ago.
Though closed to swimmers when he was 8 or 9 in the late 1990s, Wyatt, now the president of the Foss Park District Board of Commissioners and the North Chicago treasurer, started walking into the water and suddenly found himself in over his head.
“I had to dog paddle as best as I could,” Wyatt said. “Once you go out 10 feet, there is a 50- to 75-foot drop. I didn’t know how to swim. I went to Gurnee to learn after that. Children have to have a place to learn to swim.”
When the Foss Park swimming pool closed over three decades ago, Kari Cowart, the Park District’s executive director said there was no place to swim in North Chicago and nowhere for children to learn.
Restoring the beach became a priority for Wyatt during his six years on the board. For Vice President Donna King, a 24-year member of the board, reopening the beach was a longtime mission. The project finally began last summer and finished in September.
The restored, safe and award-winning Foss Park Beach has opened along North Chicago’s Lake Michigan shoreline and this month the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association (ASBPA) named it the best restoration of year.
“I’m thankful and gratified by the award,” King said. “I didn’t give up. I kept the faith. It’s a long time coming”
Restoring 1,300 feet of shoreline where rocks and boulders stood before a 50 to 70-foot drop-off into deep water was a key element of the restoration award, according to an email from the ASBPA. Both the recreational beach and coastal habitat were restored.
“The project provided direct benefit to an economically challenged community and incorporated ADA access along with the recreational sand beach,” the ASBPA said in the email. “The project demonstrates how a community can work together for mutual community benefit.”
Part of the master plan for the entire Foss Park, Wyatt said the Park District issued $4 million in bonds last year to cover the cost of the restoration and other improvements. So far, $2 million has been spent for the beach and other amenities to complement it.
Cowart said the beach was closed over a century ago because the currents and riptides made it too dangerous for swimming. As part of the project, engineering was done to determine how to calm the water.
By installing two curved rock breakwaters with a narrow opening into the unprotected part of the lake along with tons of sand, Cowart said the beach is now safe for swimming. Where there were once boulders, there is now 200 feet of sand leading to the lake.
Running east and west along the shoreline near the city’s water treatment plant, there were rough waves to the east and west of the breakwaters Thursday, but inside the swimming area the water was calm.
Cowart said the beach will be open from dawn to dusk daily. There is no charge for residents and nonresidents alike this year. The board will decide if the free use remains in effect after the season.
Along with swimming and sunbathing, Cowart said there is a picnic table and volleyball net at the beach. A new children’s playground is being installed in the park itself above the beach.
“The new playground equipment has an aquatic theme,” Cowart said. “There are grills and shelters near it.”
Wyatt said there will be a boat launch in the future just to the east of the sandy area. The park’s trail system will be incorporated into the 1,300 feet of shoreline. There are accessibility enhancements for the mobility challenged.
Wedged between Naval Station Great Lakes to the south and AbbVie’s Sheridan Road plant to the north, Wyatt said the land was once part of the base. Then U.S. Rep. George Edmund Foss arranged for the transfer of the property for a park in 1907. The Park District was named for him.