The other day an e-mail arrived in my mail box with a grave warning urging me to sign a petition. Apparently, the Park District of Highland Park was up to something at Rosewood Beach. A group of concerned citizens from a very vocal neighborhood organization issued a stern warning. Change is coming to Rosewood beach, and that change could involve something as scandalous a multi-purpose beach house designed to BRING CHILDREN TO THE BEACH for educational programming.
Wow. The threat of local school children actually going to Rosewood was definitely a call to action.
I have a keen interest in all things Rosewood since I live in Ravinia and walk to the beach each day with a good friend and our dogs. We rarely see others. This beach has to be one of the most underused resources on the entire North Shore. Since I'm one of the few people who frequent this spot, I feel that I must have earned some kind of squatter’s right to the title.
So, I did heed the call to action. But instead of signing the petition condemning the beach house/multi-purpose space, I went to the Rosewood Beach Advisory Committee Planning Meeting on Wednesday night to see what exactly what was causing such a fuss.
I didn't know what to expect, but I walked away wishing they would start construction tomorrow.
Now, partly I don’t want to get too excited, because this isn’t the first time we’ve heard this. There’s always a plan to fix Rosewood Beach. And there’s always a reason it doesn’t happen.
This time though, the Park District has taken a different approach.
The plan as I understand it is twofold. The first part will completely reestablish the sandy beach, protect the shoreline, stabilize the bluffs and restore the ravines. A job like this is a massive undertaking that will take an army of workers. Fortunately an Army of engineers equipped with expertise and Great Lakes building permits, and well armed with federal funds has landed at Rosewood. The Army Corps of Engineers has a keen interest in restoring Great Lakes fisheries. Since Rosewood lacks adequate habitat for fish spawning, the Army has taken up our cause (apparently a lack of public toilets was not a reason for the Army to get involved). We owe a big debt of gratitude to those fish.
The work outlined by the Army will restore about 11 acres of coastland, reclaiming a substantial amount of beach in the process. They are still drawing plans, but some have estimated that the sandy beach at Rosewood could be enlarged by nearly 50%. This means more square footage of beach and more stable beach area. If you're wondering what kind of work the Army Corps does, you can check out the beautiful beach in Lake Forest to get an idea.
Presuming we get the federal funding, a restored beach with enhanced square footage would pave the way for the Park District to further enhance the space with some basic improvements – like real toilets. Turns out, we can expect much more.
Learning from past missteps with Rosewood, the Park District organized a citizen advisory committee which has spent the many months listening and understanding the needs of the community. In conjunction with the PDHP, the committee hired an architect, developed a site plan, and proposed development for the Rosewood property.
Some highlights from the proposed Rosewood Plan include:
- A beautiful wooden boardwalk which replaces the asphalt sidewalk and connects a series of buildings along the path
- Family bathrooms and changing areas
- A concession stand with adjacent patio seating
- Children’s playground and beach volleyball area
- A lifeguard shack with a first aid station and storage
- A fantastic glass enclosed multi-purpose beach house, with about 1,000 square feet of space available for multi-purpose programming, camps, and exercise classes – whatever they dream up. The space will be open to beach visitors during operating hours and will generate rental revenue during non-peak hours.
I pinched myself a few times and then realized that these folks were serious. The architect, David Woodhouse, has an excellent track record with projects that respect the environment, and he brought that same respect to this project.
Where the PDHP drew past criticism for “overbuilding” on the Rosewood site, this rendition breaks up a large building into several smaller components. Liberal use of glass means that instead of blocking views, you will see through buildings to the lake and bluff. The boardwalk ties the whole project together, unifies all the elements, and provides benches with seating.
Wow. Wow. Wow.
This is a game changer for Highland Park. People will no longer refer to Rosewood as the Eyesore on the Shore. Instead of giant porta potty trailer and ugly metal walls dividing the beach, we’ll have functional facilities, a restored beach, and excellent multi-purpose space. Rosewood will be the crown jewel in our park system.
Jewels always come with price tags and the cost will be substantial. The Army Corps will foot 65% of the restoration bill with federal funds, currently estimated at $6,213,000 according to the Great Lakes Fishery and Ecosystem Restoration Program website, www.glfer.org. The Park District plans to pay for their share and additional improvements with existing grant money and reserves set aside for capital projects. No additional tax dollars will be levied to fund these improvements. Future operating costs will increase, but much of the additional maintenance costs could be covered by revenue generated from rental and concession fees.
These developments will undoubtedly bring more people to our hamlet of Ravinia, but the reality is that Rosewood Beach belongs to all of Highland Park. Highland Park’s shoreline extends more for more than five miles, yet we only have about 270 feet where people are actually allowed to swim in the water. Those 270 feet are in Ravinia.
Moraine beach is for dogs. Park Avenue beach is for boats. The undeveloped Ravine Beach (if you can find it) is for love-struck teenagers. Lake County’s Fort Sheridan’s beach is the designated resting place of unexploded ordinance.
Rosewood is for people.
I realize we have an obligation to respect the environment and the beauty of this natural space (and let’s not forget those fish), but we also have an obligation to use our single people beach for the benefit of all our citizens.
The problem with people is that our needs change over time. What we need today may be out of fashion tomorrow. Ravinia Festival used to ban alcohol and housed a Casino – that’s unimaginable today. We can't anticipate every possible use or define every possible programmatic function for this proposed building – and that’s fine. We just need to make sure it’s flexible enough to adapt when needs change.
We can’t be shortsighted. If we’re addressing basic infrastructure needs for Rosewood we can do more, we should. We should enhance the area with a multi-purpose year-round building which offers long-term flexibility and short term income - it’s a win for everyone.
Ravinians have always been a welcoming community. We live in the shadow of one of the world’s great music festivals, which brings thousands of people to our doorstep each night of the summer. We take it in stride and appreciate the perks that come from sharing this treasure with the world. It seems to me we could apply the same principle and welcome the additional Highland Park residents who might visit our community when they drop off their kids at a camp, enjoy a yoga class, or come down to the beach to enjoy the view. Maybe they’ll grab a latte at Java Love or a cupcake at Baker Boys on the way home.
Our greater community has consciously decided that Rosewood Beach is the area to be developed for people – for swimming and recreation. The Army corps has offered funding and expertise. Now is the time to act decisively to address community needs. We cannot miss this opportunity to revitalize and enhance Rosewood.
Yes, more people will come, and of course a more developed beach is a game changer for those of us who do visit regularly. We may soon cede our squatters rights to the title. We may walk down the stairs and find the sands filled with kids enjoying the water, teens playing volleyball, and adults escaping for a quick lunch. The beach will no longer be ours alone, but we’re Ravinians, and we’re used to sharing our neighborhood with friends we have not yet met.
See you at the beach.
If you want more information about the park District’s proposed plan, you can attend the public meetings
Wednesday, May 2, 7:00 p.m. at West Ridge Center, 636 Ridge Road
Sunday, May 6, 1:30 p.m. at Heller Nature Center, 2821 Ridge Road