CHICAGO | More than two dozen people, including bird watchers and environmental activists, got a close-up look Monday of Lake Calumet, a preview of what could someday be a public attraction of the Southeast Side.
The area surrounding the lake that separates the South Deering and Pullman neighborhoods is under the jurisdiction of the Illinois International Port District, which generally prohibits public access to the lake.
But the Friends of the Parks, Southeast Environmental Task Force, Pullman Civic Organization and the Lake Calumet Vision Committee groups arranged with the port district for a special Earth Day walking tour of the eastern and western shores of the lake.
Those are the portions that currently are the subject of negotiation between the port district, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and Mayor Rahm Emanuel to turn over jurisdiction to the state.
If that occurs, they would become state parks.
Port district Commissioner Victor Crivello was unsure how long it would take to complete negotiations. “A month?” he offered as a suggestion. “There are a lot of parties involved, the talks are ongoing.”
Access to the lake is limited because of the proximity to the Port of Chicago, and one of the people who took Monday’s tour, Delores Johnson of the Washington Heights neighborhood, said razor wire atop the fences walling off the area is what caught her attention.
“This is so special,” she said, while looking out at the lake. “Yet most people don’t have any idea this is here.”
Friends of the Parks President Erma Tranter said public access to Lake Calumet is a longtime goal of her organization. “This valuable port district land ought to be open to the public for recreational use,” she said.
That would be a return to the past. Lansing resident Tom Kralj said he recalls when he was a child in the 1940s, he was able to walk from his home in the South Deering neighborhood to the lake.
“You used to be able to go fishing, hunt for duck or pheasant,” Kralj said, adding the area changed when the Port of Chicago was developed in the late 1950s. “This area now,” he said of the heavily-polluted area with a dismissive wave of his hand. “It’s a total disaster.”
Yet there are still signs of nature, as the group that walked through the area between the northern edge of the lake and the Harborside Golf Course took pleasure at using their binoculars and telescopes to check out an eagle nest set up on a land strip in the lake.
Carolyn Marsh, a Southeast Environmental Task Force member, pointed out that the nest was near some cotton trees. “It makes sense, since they’re about the only thing that will grow in all this pollution,” she said.