Friday, October 9, 2009

Northerly Island Park

This was going to be a post about the Shedd Aquarium, the largest indoor aquarium in the world, but it turned out that the free general admission days published by the library were not free general admission days according to the Shedd. The woman at the ticket counter sounded like she had been explaining that to a lot of people this week. But since we were on the Museum Campus anyway, Heather steered me gently over to Northerly Island Park.

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Northerly Island Park's history is fascinating. It's neither natural nor an island, rather, it's a peninsula made from fill. Not surprising, really, since Lake Michigan isn't known for its powers of erosion. Though it does have a tide. Lake Michigan is big enough to feel a teeny lunar pull, that's where the waves come from, but it's not big enough for the waves and tides to have much effect on the shoreline. It does explain the existence of beach, however.

From what Heather told me, and from what I gleaned via several internet searches*, Northerly Island was once the home of a small, busy private airport, Miegs Field. You can see the name still exists on the map above. In 2003, Mayor Daley realized his dream of returning Northerly Island to its originally intended purpose as a park per the Burnham Plan by sending demolition crews out to the field in the middle of the night, where they bulldozed two large X's in the runway. The action was taken without warning to anyone, including the FAA. Sixteen small planes were stranded, and various aviation organizations were up in arms. One of the pilots' unions called for a boycott of Chicago by all conferences and exhibitions.

(Here is where I point out that the Miegs Field lease on the land expired in 1996. There is of course much more to the story than that. Various people should have been notified, permits should have been obtained, etc. It was underhanded dealing, and many of the Mayor's arguments about the necessity of closing the field were shaky and/or incorrect. In the end, Mayor Daley, in Heather's words, clearly opted for the Forgiveness Option rather than the Permission Option.)

Ultimately, the planes were allowed to use the taxiway to leave the island, the city paid a $33,000 fine and returned around $1 million in airport development funds that were misappropriated for the closure and demolition of Miegs Field.

The fieldhouse (once the Miegs Field terminal) is now the home of guides who give park tours and answer questions on the history of Northerly Island Park. It's open 9-5 on weekdays.

Wandering along the asphalt paths among the flowers on a clear October day, you'd never know this small piece of land was once the center of such a huge controversy.

These lovely ladies are part of a trio called the Daphne Garden, created by sculptor Dessa Kirk. They are PERFECT in this space, dancing with the sky and the wind and the lake. I bet they're equally gorgeous during a winter storm, though I will probably not venture out to verify that assumption.

We also did make it to the Adler Planetarium, but only the exterior. Heather wanted to show me the free telescopes on the balcony, but I really only had eyes for the skyline. What a beautiful city.

*The results of my research are a perfect example of why one must use care when relying on the internet as a source. It took me FOREVER to find a report on the events that wasn't by someone with an axe to grind. The first few pages of my google search turned up nothing but accounts by various unhappy entities. Be sure you pay attention to who you're reading, kids.

1 comment:

  1. That is my favorite view of the skyline and it's stunning at night as well. IF I were to get married again and IF I had the money, I'd have the reception at the Planetarium for the view alone. Lotta ifs there, not holding my breath. That glass extention of the Planetarium has allowed the place to stay afloat, what with the rental fees and all.