Evanston beaches set to open with enhanced lifeguard program, improved safety measures
EVANSTON, Ill. - As Memorial Day weekend approaches, communities are readying their beaches and pools for the unofficial start of summer.
All 22 of Chicago's beaches will open for the season on Friday, May 26 at 11 a.m. Until then, swimming is not permitted.
Depending on lifeguard staffing levels, Chicago Park District officials say they are planning to reopen public pools on Friday, June 23.
In Evanston, lifeguards will return to the city’s six public beaches this Saturday, May 27 at 11 a.m. – with a new and improved program.
"This is one more step in that really collaborative, seamless effort towards life safety along Lake Michigan in Evanston," said Matt Smith, division chief of special operations with the Evanston Fire Department.
For nearly a year, the Evanston Fire Department and the Parks and Recreation Department have been working in collaboration to improve safety and programming along the lakefront.
"First of all, safety – we always just want to make sure people are safe. And then second, fun," said Audrey Thompson, Evanston Parks & Recreation director.
Unlike years past, the Evanston Fire Department will oversee lifeguards this summer, allowing the Parks and Recreation Department to focus on programming.
"It’s what we do, and it’s what they do, and it just makes sense," said Evanston Fire Department Chief Paul Polep.
With restructured leadership, officials say the season will be smooth sailing – with more room for waterfront activities.
"I get to put on those sandcastle contests, regattas, you name it, movies on the beach, more watercraft rentals, sailing lessons," said Tim Carter, Evanston lakefront manager.
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The lifeguard program's overhaul comes after allegations of harassment and assault came to light in 2021, leading to the resignation of several Evanston Parks and Recreation officials last year.
Now, lifeguards are being trained by the fire department, and on Monday, returning lifeguards were at headquarters brushing up on their skills.
So far this season, more than 140 people have applied to the program.
The collaboration also means that efficiency will be improved, as lifeguards will now have a faster way to reach 911 in the event of an emergency.
"Especially since, when there is an emergency, we still call 911," said Thompson.
"Now with our upgraded radio communications system, we’re going to be allowing our beach managers, one on each beach, to be able to communicate directly with our 911 center to seamlessly get 911, police, fire, going to the beach where they’re needed right away," said Smith.
Additionally, enhancements mean better access for all this season.
"At Clark Street Beach and at Dempster Street Beach, we will have ADA accessible wheelchairs free for anybody to check out," said Carter.
Plus, city officials have rolled out Mobi-Mats that better assist individuals who use wheelchairs.
"This is a huge win for the City of Evanston and I’m hopeful other municipalities along the lakefront will catch on," said Carter.
During Memorial Day weekend in Evanston, lifeguards will be on duty from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m.
The status of Evanston’s beaches, along with lifeguard hours will be updated here daily.