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Forest Park Master Plan Draft Draws Mixed Reaction

Residents concerned over changing historic flavor of park.

Lake Forest residents are asking the not to disturb or change the historic flavor of the park during Tuesday night's presentation of the draft master plan to the .

"This is a concept, but this is not a master plan in any sense," said resident Rommy Lopat. "Bringing these plans was more than premature. There are a few problems. The parking is well-used and all day long. What's wrong with having 8-15 cars in the park? Now the plan proposes parallel parking; the park needs to encourage, not disenfranchise the public from using the park."

In contrast, park board members mostly were pleased compared to the mixed reaction from residents. The plan was to be presented again Wednesday night before the Historic Preservation Committee.

After that input, the master plan will be further refined and be reviewed again by the local boards. Parks Board Chairman Robin Ford said the plan could come before the for review later this spring.

While other residents respected the integrity of the park designed in 1901 by Prairie Style proponent O.C. Simonds, they also believe it needs to be updated.

Resident Rick Amos said he jogs in parks “all over the country.”

“The time to renovate is long overdue. I think the design is great. To not do anything, to repave the road is just a missed opportunity. It's time to re-address that park and clean it up," Amos said.

The plan draft, developed by landscape architects Steven Stimson Associates after resident feedback and committee input dating back nearly a year, included renovations in line with recommendations the Forest Park Project Board made in January, such as:

  • Retaining the original Ring Road in a form and location respectful of the original O.C. Simonds design;
  • Eliminating Ring Road parking, but providing space for short-term vehicle waiting and passenger drop-offs;
  • Repairing the belvedere stairs and beach-access ramp;
  • Recognizing the cultural value of the park.

Some of the problems highlighted in the draft plan include:

  • A limited lake view because of growth of seedlings and invasive species, which result in a dense canopy and lack of biodiversity. This would be addressed by replanting and removal of undesirable or damaged plants and trees.
  • Presence of exotic or non-native plants, and a proliferation of plants acceptable in Simonds' time but now considered invasive, such as Norway maples and black locusts.
  • Bluff erosion from runoff;
  • Bluff failure at the south end near Ring Road and at the south access road boat launch. According to the proposed plan, the volume of and vibrations from traffic on Ring Road, originally designed as a horse-wagon trail, actually are affecting the bluff's stability. The plan recommends replacing Ring Road with a walking path made of granular material, edged in stone and set back further from the bluff.
  • Erosion along the park's edge on Lake Road due to lack of curbs and gutters.

A single memorial site was suggested for past and future memorials, such as bench-dedicated trees and bench plaques. Any tree removal would be discussed with families.

Architect Steve Stimson said 38 trees would be removed and 15 transplanted, with seven designated as memorials.

"The trees we envision are a continuation of the native heritage trees like oak, hickory and sugar maple," with some added on the bluff edge, he said.

"One of the nice things about the park is it's large enough, and you can phase in planting," Stimson added. "I think I would want to have the road resolved, lighting, basic infrastructure done and the parking to the south. We can do planting or can plant smaller trees."

Improving views and incorporating less-obtrusive backless stone benches for seating didn't go over well with residents like Jim Lovell, who lives near the park.

"The benches we now have are nice, wooden benches with backs and sides, and are historic in nature," he said. "Stone benches are cold and just a waste of money and time, and I don't think people will use them."

Resident and Friends of Forest Park member Basil Falcone disagreed. "Forest Park is a de facto historic site; any changes, landscape or otherwise should coincide with preservation and city ordinances," he said.

But Forest Park Project Board Chairman Ralph Gesualdo said the plan is flexible and can be done in stages.

"We don't have to finish the entire park all upfront," he said. "A master plan is created and can be a process."

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RSG March 22, 2012 at 02:21 PM
The park needs more parking, not less. However, it is time to start doing something because the roadway is in terrible shape. I agree with Lovell about the benches, why new ones??? Of course I would like to see an indoor/outdoor swimming pool built in this park. That would make the park unique.
Robert T March 22, 2012 at 04:20 PM
Jim Lovell is so right about the benches. Just one of many issues that this mis guided plan contains. Here is an example of where major change is not warranted. But then again we have a city council that sees nothing wrong with knocking down Old Main! We need leaderships change through out the city!
Rommy Lopat March 24, 2012 at 03:28 AM
One department in the City does not seem to know what the other is doing. We have an incredibly beautiful Cemetery. Why? Because the Cemetery has a Master Plan that follows historic design precepts, like preserving trees whose branches grow down to the ground in a picturesque way. Since the historic designer of the Cemetery was the exact same person as Forest Park, the Master Plan for Forest Park should echo the Cemetery's, which has pastoral, ecological landscaping and includes ideas for innovative water filtering systems that prevent erosion and hot stormwater from gushing into Lake Michigan (the old fashioned way is proposed for FP). IF you like the corporate campus look--stone picnic tables (ever tried to move one?) and stone benches, trees limbed up, and no trees on the bluff (no one has disclosed how many trees will be cut down on the whole bluff or in the woods), and NO PARKING LOT in the main park, this is the plan for you. But the City should be consistent--policies that it says homeowners should follow should be the same it follows. If you were a homeowner and wanted to regrade the bluff and cut all the trees BEFORE you disclose what and how you would plant instead, would you be allowed to do it? I hope not. What's necessary? Facts, disclosure, consistency, a plan for the whole park, and a picturesque landscape design rather than a contempo corporate look for an important national register property. Is that too much to ask? Let's get it right--maybe a new designer?
Arthur H. Miller March 30, 2012 at 07:16 PM
Part I of 2: Even though LF Cemetery and Forest Park both were sited by Almerin Hotchkiss in 1857 and forty or so years later were worked on had design drawings created by O. C. Simonds, it is an overstatement to assert that "since the historic designer of the Cemetery was the exact same person as Forest Park..." First, a plan for LF Cemetery was drawn in 1860, perhaps by William Saunders (Gettysburg Cem., 1863) who also worked on Graceland around then or a relative of his who had a nursery near Graceland, and then a major new plan was done in 1882 by William Le Baron Jenney in 1882, also planner of the West side Parks, Chicago, and the estate on Mayflower of the future Schweppe estate and the Hamill estate to the south. Simonds came in to the LF Cem. again two decades later with more planting, but proposed a west entry that never happened. Forest Park too was preserved or set aside by Hotchkiss in 1857 and then at the request of the City a carriage road was added in 1896, about, and perhaps some planting based on the plan by Simonds then. But some of that same plan may be a description of the landscape as found/preserved: we can't be sure (per Cliff Miller).
Arthur H. Miller March 30, 2012 at 07:16 PM
Part 2. Also, in the last twenty years MAJOR changes have been wrought to LF Cemetery on a scale not even contemplated now for FP. While for FP we agonize over the character of benches, LF Cem. constructed a new (expensive) admin. bldg. at the west end, added a southeast wall for ashes (good idea but way too unremittingly masonry in character) and allowed built into the MAIN lake vista from the middle of the Cemetery a family tomb the size of a moving truck, completely changing the character of the east end of the cemetery, its repose, sight-lines etc. Virtually nothing of the forested character of Graceland today or LF Cemetery a quarter century ago much less Simonds' contribution to the LF Cemetery, if we could sort it out, can be said to be there today and of his hand. LF Cemetery today is a much more built up space than anything, ANYthing being proposed by Mr. Stimson for Forest Park.

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