This year marks the 25th anniversary of the grand opening of Forest Park Beach, the culmination of an $8.5 million investment made by the people of Lake Forest and the Shoreline Restoration Advisory Committee in 1987.
To celebrate the occasion, the Lake Forest Parks and Recreation Department will be having a Beach Bash with activities for the whole family today through Sunday.
Earlier: Three Day Beach Bash Starts Friday
“It’s a celebration to honor the Shoreline Restoration Advisory Committee and all the countless individuals including the city council, former mayors and former city manager, who had a vision for Forest Park Beach,” Jeff Wait, superintendent for special facilities of the Lake Forest Parks and Recreation department, said.
Forest Park Beach was incorporated into the city in 1861. In 1984, the city had a big problem on its hands. Record-high lake levels, wave action, storm damage and man-made structures had cut off natural sand deposits, causing the 3,400 foot shoreline to erode until its sandy beach was reduced to a sad-looking four feet of gravel.
To help identify shoreline problems and solutions, the Shoreline Restoration Advisory Committee was formed in November 1984. The committee came up with a plan to install offshore breakwaters and onshore stone revetments for a beach restoration that would allow natural wave action, according to the Forest Park Beach Report.
In 1986, the committee’s City of Lake Forest Report urged voters to invest in the future: “Unless we protect and restore our shoreline using technologies necessary for today and 125 years from today, there will be no beach, no sand, no parking or boat launch areas. There will be no room to sun, swim, fish, walk or picnic for those of us, from every corner of the City, who make 40,000-plus visits each year from Memorial Day to Labor Day.” This summer, there were an estimated 80,000 visits to Forest Park Beach.
Voters Step up To Pass Referendum
That March, Lake Forest voters approved a referendum that included an $8.5 million bond issue to fund the restoration. The beach restoration was also funded by $300,000 in donations from residents. No state or federal funds were used. Along with the new technology, changes included a protected boat basin and boat launch, a beach house, a lawn area, wood walkways and overlooks, and the waterfront promenade.
Construction began in June, 1986 and continued until May, 1987. Changes were rapid and visible, and construction crews battled major storms.
Finally, on May 25, 1987, 6,000 people attended the grand opening of Forest Park Beach. The rainy day couldn’t stop the excitement. Here’s an account from the Forest Park Beach report.
“We listened as Mayor Marshall Strenger and City Manager Jim Fischbach officially dedicated Forest Park Beach. We watched former Mayor Frank Farwell, who had appointed the Shoreline Committee and overseen the project from concept to reality; toss the final bucket of sand on the beach. We stood around the warming flames in copper-hooded fireplaces in both pavilions. We came and went all day, joining in the activities or watching the happenings as we chose. And most of us came back for spectacular over-the-water evening fireworks.
“We might have been bedraggled by the drizzle, but we were pleased. Forest Park Beach was magnificently new and officially open for the 1987 season.”
First Season Brings 200,000 Beach Visits
That season saw 200,000 beach visits. Weirdly, that October, many turned out to see 500 pounds of dead fish dropped from the sky. (Check out this 1987 Chicago Tribune article to see some truly hilarious quotes from Lake Forest residents).
“Because of [the committee’s] vision and dedication, we now have a unique facility to celebrate that has 80,000 visits between Memorial Day and Labor Day,” Wait said. “It’s probably the most used facility in Lake Forest. This is a great opportunity to foster a sense of community togetherness.”
For more information on the Beach Bash, contact the City of Lake Forest Parks and Recreation Department at 847-234-6700 or visit their website.