Police promise to leave safe park-goers alone as advocacy group issues list of “Top 10” Chicago parks for social distancing

The West Ridge Natural Area in Lincoln Square (Yes. Lincoln Square!) offers 21 acres of little-used space, the group says. | Chicago Park District

The city’s leading pro-parks organization says Chicago police are promising to not run people out of open neighborhood parklands after widespread complaints of uneven and confusing enforcement of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s COVID-19 orders.

And, Friends of the Parks (FOTP) went a step further by issuing a list of ten parks that it says are the best for maintaining physical distancing while enjoying some outdoor exercise.

“We received numerous complaints of police shutting down parks at will, even when they weren’t particularly busy,” the group said in a press release Tuesday. “This is contributing to confusion that already exists.”

The group contacted the Chicago Park District, which in turn received a “commitment from the Chicago Police Department to communicate across its system that it is not ok to say that parks had been closed when they are not among those covered by the mayor’s order.”

Chicago police have been flooded with complaints from 911 callers who seemingly don’t realize that most city parks are open for the public to safely enjoy during the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Many people have complained that cops are chasing them out of parks when they are properly distanced. One North Side man told CWBChicago that officers forced him and his daughter out of Welles Park on Sunday. They were playing catch and, even better, they were the only two people in the entire park, the man said.

With springtime weather slowly returning and no end in sight for the state’s stay-at-home order, FOTP recommended ten parks that are underutilized, accessible from many directions and “might not be too crowded.”

Here are a few of their recommended spots for grabbing fresh air, clearing your mind, and maybe even catching a little sunshine:

• West Ridge Natural Area, 5601 North Western, boasts trails, boardwalks, and a fishing area, the group says. The 21-acre spread is a fairly recent park conversion. It used to be part of Rosehill Cemetery.

• Dunning Read Conservation Area, 4200 North Oak Park, features 25 acres of wetlands and woodlands that are in the process of being turned over to the park district after FOTP saved it from a developer. “It’s hard to find, so it doesn’t get a lot of use, which makes it the perfect place to visit now,” the group says. Wear hiking boots and be prepared for lots of plant growth, some coyotes, and friendly bird watchers.

• Garfield Park, 300 North Central, is well-known for its conservatory, but local advocates say “most visitors never venture south of Lake Street to take in other parts of the beautiful park.” There is one warning: “Lots of geese that are not good at social distancing.”

Rounding out the group’s Top 10 list:

  • Schafer Park/Urban Growers Collective, 9000 South Green Bay
  • Big Marsh Park, 11555 South Stony Island
  • Douglas Park, 1401 South Sacramento
  • Marquette Park, 6700 South Kedzie
  • Sherman Park, 1301 West 52nd
  • Riis Park, 6100 West Fullerton
  • Dan Ryan Woods, 83rd Street at South Western Ave

Here’s a handy, zoomable map to help you find all of the open Chicago parks in your neighborhood.

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About CWBChicago 6766 Articles
CWBChicago was created in 2013 by five residents of Wrigleyville and Boystown who had grown disheartened with inaccurate information that was being provided at local Community Policing (CAPS) meetings. Our coverage area has expanded since then to cover Lincoln Park, River North, The Loop, Uptown, and other North Side Areas. But our mission remains unchanged: To provide original public safety reporting with better context and greater detail than mainstream media outlets. Our editorial email address is news@cwbchicago.com