I received this comment today from a fellow visiting Chicago from across the pond:
Hi – intrigued to read this. I am from the UK and was in Chicago a few weeks ago – mid-Feb 09 – and a colleague and I braved the waters, WITHOUT a wetsuit, at the little beach near the Museum of Science and Industry. The water was cold – I’d say about 1-3C – but quite bearable. We stayed in for five minutes or so.
What was intriguing were the bossy notices on the beach saying that what we were doing is illegal. Is this really the case – is swimming in open water in the winter illegal in the US?? It certainly isn’t in Britain
This is a significant observation. Chicago is the only major city in the U.S. that imposes a swim ban outside of the official open beach season (Memorial Day to Labor Day). And even during these summer months, the city criminalizes all non-motorized water activities (i.e. swimming, kayaking, surfing, etc.) outside of the hours where beaches are patrolled by lifeguards. And to make matters even worse, lifeguards will not begin their beach patrols until 11:00am this summer due to city budget cuts.
We’re working to get this swim ban changed to a “swim at your own risk” policy, and a big part of this campaign is public awareness. I publicize the issue as much as I can on this site, but we really need you and your friends to help us build more momentum. One easy way to do this is to sign the petition to open Chicago’s beaches to non-motorized sports.
Sometimes it takes an outsider’s perspective to shed light on Chicago’s archaic beach access policy…