CHICAGO (CBS)–The 606, a popular elevated trail on the Northwest Side, will reopen on Monday, along with the Lakefront Trail, which is getting a $4.75 million gift from billionaire Ken Griffin to repair erosion damage caused by storms and record lake levels last year.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Thursday afternoon that the 606 would be open daily from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., but users must “keep it moving,” meaning it only will be open for walking, running, cycling, and rollerblading. The same rules are in place for the Lakefront Trail when it officially opens on Monday.
Congregating, gathering, or using park resources such as stationary activities, fitness classes, barbecues, beaches, and picnicking will remain forbidden along the lakefront. Basketball courts, tennis courts, athletic fields, and outdoor fitness equipment also still may not be used.
“It’s critically important that we not congregate congregation is the worry and concern about spreading COVID-19, which still is very much in our present, but we’re I’m excited that we’re going to be opening up these opportunities for members of the public to enjoy to help ensure our residents adhere to these rules,” Lightfoot said.
As for people who violate the rules by gathering in large groups, or by going into the lake, Lightfoot said city officials will focus on educating people about the rules first before punishing violators.
“We don’t want to fine people. We don’t want to lock people up. We’re going to take the steps that are necessary, and we’re going to start with really educating people,” she said.
Social distancing ambassadors will be posted along the Lakefront Trail to remind people of the rules.
“We want the public to enjoy these iconic opportunities in the outdoors, but we want everyone to do this safely, and we must make sure that we are mobile and moving along the lakefront, along the 606, or along the Riverwalk and other outdoor activity,” Lightfoot said.
Lightfoot declined to speculate when the city might reopen the lakefront beaches, saying only that she has regular discussions with the Chicago Department of Public Health and the Chicago Park District.
“When we get to a point where we believe that we can safely reopen the beaches, we will, but for now they remain closed,” she said.
The mayor’s office said the city’s harbors and lakefront golf courses — South Shore Golf Course and Sydney Marovitz Golf Course — also will reopen on Monday. The city’s inland golf courses and Diversey Driving Range reopened on June 8. Chicago swimming pools and playgrounds will remain closed while public health officials advise the Park District on how to open them safely.
Many people already have been using the Lakefront, including playgrounds, which will remain closed when the trail opens on Monday.
“There’s been a little bit of leakage along the lakefront trail, and we understand that. That’s why we’re opening them up, and we feel comfortable opening them up fully on Monday with the hours restrictions and the restrictions that people need to keep it moving,” Lightfoot said. “We have repeatedly said that playgrounds are closed and off-limits, and that’s because of the danger of the spread of the virus. We are not devoting resources to repeatedly cleaning the playgrounds, and I urge parents not to use them, because you’re putting yourself at risk.”
Lightfoot said she’s been encouraged by seeing most people in Chicago continuing to follow social distancing guidelines and public health advice as the city has gradually reopened, and said she hopes they continue to do so when the Lakefront Trail and The 606 reopen.
“I know I sound like a broken record when I say, but I can’t emphasize it enough, our reopening of any kind will only work if residents continue to act responsibly,” she said.
The mayor warned that other states that have reopened have seen “huge surges in cases,” in some cases seeing record numbers of infections, so she reminded people to continue adhering to social distancing guidelines, including wearing a mask in public, staying six feet away from others, and practicing hand hygiene.
“I don’t want to be in a position where I have to stand in front of Chicago, and say we failed and we have to scale back our reopening. That would be devastating to everyone. So please, please, exercise caution, be smart and make sure you adhere to the social distancing rules,” she said.
Meantime, Griffin’s $4.75 million donation to the Chicago Park District will pay for much-needed repairs on the Lakefront Trail.
Griffin also donated $12 million to the city in 2016 to create separate paths on the Lakefront Trail for cyclists and joggers. Park District Supt. Mike Kelly said some of those paths will be temporarily merged this summer while repairs are underway on damaged sections.
The merged trails will include from Fullerton Avenue to North Avenue, from North Avenue to Ohio Street, and from 43rd Street to 51st Street. Kelly said signs would be posted directing trail users where to go.
Lightfoot said she still hopes to secure federal funding to allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a new study evaluating the lakefront, which could help officials devise a long-term plan to protect the eroding shoreline
“This lakefront is not only a jewel for the city of Chicago, it’s a jewel for the region; and what needs to be done here as well as Indiana and Michigan. We all have a connected interest in making sure that our lakefront is strong and vital, and doesn’t disappear into the lake because of rising lakefront waters,” she said.
Severe erosion along the lakefront is a problem year after year. Much of it is because of more frequent and intense storms from the fall and winter.
They also come at a time when the water level in Lake Michigan is historically high.
The Chicago Department of Transportation and U.S. Army Corp of Engineers are already working on a project to protect Lakeshore Drive at 49th Street.
Their plan is to put concrete blocks along the shoreline from 49th to 50th streets. Crews also will rebuild a badly eroded section of the trail in that area. Those repairs are expected to take three months.