Planning efforts for the future of Lake Calumet on Chicago’s south side have taken a positive turn in recent months with the opening of the process to local community members. The board of the Illinois International Port District (IIPD), which governs use of the lake, has held three public meetings to garner input from environmental, recreational, and commercial interests.
Not surprisingly, these meetings have been well attended.The January environmental meeting drew 25 representatives from over a dozen groups, and the recreational meeting brought in 40 participants from at least 20 groups. Public access to the resource tops the list of concerns being raised at these meetings. Hindered by fences for several years, access to Lake Calumet has become even more difficult since IIPD’s unsuccessful proposal to build a powerboat marina in 2002. As Candace McFadden from the local group Folks on Spokes points out, “Adults in the Lake Calumet region don’t have the recreational opportunities that other parts of Chicago seem to enjoy.”
A strong coalition of grassroots and regional groups continues to emphasize the need to manage Lake Calumet’s natural areas as a valuable resource. The Cook County Forest Preserve District recently held discussions with a number of community members on the possibility of purchasing land in the Lake Calumet region.
While budgets at the District are tight, this proposal is enticing for a number of reasons. The land surrounding Lake Calumet has a relatively low market value compared to other locations in Chicago, and offers a great “bang for the buck” in terms of the quantity of land available. Additionally, there is potential to establish a cooperative agreement with the Illinois DNR, which could alleviate management pressure on the District. Regardless of the outcome of this proposal, citizens are continuing to search for innovative ways to ensure that the right people are managing Lake Calumet’s ecological resources.