Significant damage to Northerly Island Park may cost taxpayers big time

One of Chicago’s most popular, and expensive, new parks is under attack. Not from people, but from Mother Nature.

The Chicago Park District has been forced to close part of the new Northerly Island Park because of erosion from Lake Michigan, and nobody knows how many tax dollars will be needed to fix the problem.

It’s a crown jewel of the Chicago Park District: 40 acres of restored nature where once there was nothing but concrete. Dunes, wetlands and a one mile bike and jogging trail to enjoy the view. Politicians lavished praise on the ten million dollar park when it opened last September.

"Seeing nature is the awe part of this. 40 acres of incredible nature,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

But it seems Mother Nature can cause trouble, too. FOX 32 found trails covered with rocks and silt, and barricades where newly-poured concrete is in danger of collapse.

Bikers looking to complete the loop around the park are being forced to turn back in frustration.

"Well it should be open. I don't know why they're closing it,” said George Palmerin.

"Basically it was unanticipated that we would have the level of erosion and damage that we're getting,” said Roy Deda.

Deda of the Army Corps of Engineers says a series of heavy storms combined with higher than average lake levels have caused significant damage to the east side of the new park.

Waves crashing over and through the rock wall protecting the park have washed away much of the fill under the walkways, leaving them dangerously suspended in the air with little support.

The Army Corps tried a quick fix of smaller rocks to block the water, but Deda says "That didn't work so we are now looking at a more detailed design in order to prevent future erosion, as well as to control the flow of the water that's causing the erosion.”

It’s too early to say how much that fix will cost, but it will likely be split between the federal government and the Chicago Park District.

The park district gave FOX 32 the following statement: “Most of the island is available for recreation and we invite them to experience this beautiful natural area within our city.”

Despite the problems, the park has been successful in its goal of recreating several different ecosystems found along Chicago’s lakefront before it became a bustling metropolis, and giving bikers and hikers a new sanctuary in the city.

"It’s the most beautiful place in the city,” one woman said.

Those bike and walking trails on the east side of the park will remain closed until they can be shored up and the erosion problem resolved, which they hope happens in time for summer.