Lakefront Trail and parks closed, violators could face arrest

Chicago police officers patrol the Lakefront Trail near North Avenue Beach on Thursday morning as the city closes the area to pedestrians amid fears of the coronavirus pandemic. | Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Ald. Harry Osterman wrote that that the Lakefront Trail, park, and beaches from Ardmore south are closed to the public. Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) said the “entire lakefront, including all of the parks along the lakefront are being closed.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot is making good on her extraordinary threat to shut down the lakefront and all of its parks and beaches to prevent Chicagoans from defying a statewide stay-at-home order aimed at slowing community spread of the coronavirus.

On Thursday, north lakefront Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) sent a “Dear Neighbor” email to his constituents informing them that the mayor’s threat had turned into a harsh reality

“Effective 8 a.m. today, Thursday, March 26, the Lakefront Trail, park, and beaches from Ardmore south are closed to public access. This includes parkland east of Marine Drive, as well as Berger Park,” Osterman wrote.

“This order has been put in place to ensure social distancing between individuals and to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. This is a very serious health crisis we are in. I strongly ask you to follow this directive and stay off the lakefront. Park security and the Chicago Police Department will be enforcing this directive. Please do not force our local police officers have to enforce this. The police efforts are needed elsewhere in this crisis.”

In the email, Osterman warned his constituents that the “full impact of this health crisis has not yet hit” Chicago and that “each of us have a role in slowing the spread of this virus.”

“Please keep up with social distancing and following the other guidance from the CDC and Chicago Department of Public Health,” Osterman wrote.

“If you need to go outside to walk your dog or get some fresh air, keep it to your block or a local route through our neighborhood. I appreciate your help in this effort.”

The mayor’s office said it was “aware” of Osterman’s email, but would not comment on it until Lightfoot’s 1 p.m. news conference at City Hall.

Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) confirmed the “entire lakefront, including all of the parks along the lakefront are being closed. Everything” including the beaches.

“It’s really unfortunate that it needs to be done. But, every person … inadvertently having contact with someone could be another person catching the disease,” Smith said.

“People just have to Google what’s happening in New York or in other places to know that this is happening to us and could be happening even worse. The only way to [control it] is to stay home, for like the next two weeks.”

Smith said she has no idea how long the unprecedented closing will last. How does she explain the open-ended closing to lakefront constituents growing stir-crazy after less than a week cooped up in their homes?

“There are alternative forms of exercise that people are well aware of. That’s what people need to do. If you need to get some air, get some air. You cannot congregate,” Smith said.

“We have seen too many people endangering themselves, probably unknowingly or disbelievingly, that, if they are with people that they know, how can they really get sick?”

On Wednesday, Lightfoot instructed Chicago Police officers to shut down large gatherings and threatened to use what she called “every lever at my disposal” to compel compliance.

She was moved to action by the large gatherings that she saw along the lakefront, the crowds at Chicago playgrounds and basketball courts and the warm weather that is luring stir-crazy Chicagoans outside even though they’re supposed to be staying at home.

“Way too many people gathering like it’s just another day. This is not just another day. And no day will be just another day until we are on the other side of this virus, which is weeks away,” the mayor said.

“I understand people are frustrated at being stuck in their homes and anxious to get out outside and move around. And you can do that. But, you must do it in a way that is smart, that is maintaining social distance and not congregating in other locations with lots of other people. That’s where the danger lies.”

Lightfoot warned then that, if police warnings and citations were not successful in shutting down large gatherings. She was prepared to go even further.

“If we have to — because you are not educating yourselves into compliance and if you are not abiding by these very clear, but necessary stay at home orders — we will be forced to shut down parks and the entire lakefront,” the mayor said.

“Let me be clear. That’s the last thing any of us want and that’s the last thing that I want to do as mayor. But make no mistake: If people don’t take this in a serious way in which they must, I’m not gonna hesitate to pull every lever at my disposal to force compliance if necessary. But, let’s not get to that point. We don’t need to. Stay at home. Only go out for essentials. If you want to exercise, do it in a way that you are not congregating with other people.”

A few hours later, Chicago Police officers started making good on the mayor’s threat by closing down the Lakefront Trail at North Avenue.

Contributing: Mark Brown

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