Summer 2003

News of the Wild

Daley's Midnight Run on Meigs Field Increases Security
— and Habitat

It was perhaps the first attempt by a top government official to save open space — not destroy it — under cover of darkness. Shortly after midnight on March 31, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley dispatched heavy equipment to slash large Xs through the runways at Meigs Field, effectively closing the small airport.

Daley explained the next morning that the airport's lakefront location had allowed planes too close to downtown skyscrapers. This, he said, contributed to an apprehensive public mindset and compromised security against terrorist attacks. This precautionary step against terrorism was consistent with the mayor's widely praised proposal to build a park and restore habitat on the 91-acre landfill site, called Northerly Island.

The hopes of parks supporters had been dashed when Governor Ryan had insisted on keeping Meigs open in exchange for supporting Daley's expansion plans at O'Hare airport. But when the governor failed to uphold his side of the bargain, Daley was able to revive the plan for a new gem in the lakefront parks. City officials haven't released any new plans for Northerly Island, but they have been working with several groups since the mid-1990s on plans for the site, according to Cameron Davis, executive director of the Lake Michigan Federation. "The city is going to need to progress on a step-by-step basis on Northerly Island," said Davis, citing current lack of funds as the largest barrier to construction. "It's going to take some time. The first phase will be for the city to evaluate all of the plans, then put together a strategy."

The Lake Michigan Federation released its plan for Northerly Island in February 2001, exactly one year before Meigs Field was originally scheduled to close. The Federation based its design upon an earlier plan by the city to return the site to the parkland use for which it was originally built. "It was developed with enormous input from volunteers and members throughout the community," said Davis. "It really represents the wishes of average citizens."

"Sanctuary Point" would integrate original elements of Chicago's lakefront, such as shoreline prairie, woods, dune ridges, and wetlands, with a focus on creating habitat for wildlife, most notably fish and migratory birds. Winding paths would connect with Burnham Park, 12th Street Beach, the Adler Planetarium, and an interpretive center occupying existing buildings.