With temperatures soaring in the 80s and 90s, and with Chicago ranking among the sweatiest cities in the nation, city-dwellers have begun to flock to Lake Michigan and the 31 beaches along the Chicagoland shoreline to enjoy the sun. But if they want to enjoy the beaches safely, the Chicago Park District (CPD), which maintains the beaches from Evanston in the north to Calumet in the south, will have to work hard to maintain its high water purification and cleanliness standards.
As part of their work, the CPD tests water samples daily for bacteria and viruses such as E. coli, which may prove harmful to residents who venture into the water. "The Environmental Protection Agency suggests testing once every two weeks, but we test the water everyday," said Ann Ziolkowski, CPD director of marketing for the Lake Front Region.
Based on these daily tests, the CPD places a swimming ban on a beach after two days of high results. This summer there have been only two bans of 10 and 12 hours on beaches on 63rd Street and Rainbow Avenue, respectively.
Cleanup at Promontory Point by the Army Corps of Engineers and the building of a pedestrian underpass just north of 57th Street exacerbate the problem by bringing construction debris close to Hyde Park's 57th Street Beach. However, officials say the beach is still safe. "The Point construction is part of the Lake Shore Drive project, and our beach house is not affected by any of the renovations going on in that fenced-off area," Ziolkowski said.
Hyde Parkers frequently use Promontory Point in the summer for sunbathing, exercising, and picnicking, but although many people swim in the surrounding waters, no lifeguards are on duty. Swimming is not allowed at the Point due to this lack of supervision, but also due to the danger of submerged rocks.
However, the 57th Street beach, while not as large at the beach at 63rd Street, does have water sports facilities. It also has a concession stand, outdoor showers, and restrooms. The beach is open and served by lifeguards from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
The 57th Street Beach is normally crowded with Hyde Park residents, tourists, and visitors from other parts of the city. However, it is not as crowded as the Olympic-size pool in Washington Park.
The Washington Park pool includes a 36-foot water slide, the highest and only one of its kind on the city's south side. According to officials, the relatively new 5-year-old slide draws large crowds every day. "The pool has a capacity of 500 people, and is always very, very crowded," said Regina Hayes from CPD.
The Washington Park pool opens at 8 a.m. seven days a week, with different time slots for adults and children so as to control the influx of people. The facility opened Memorial Day weekend and will remain open until Labor Day.