Busy sailing beach a challenge for Wilmette Park District
Wilmette Park District Lakefront Manager Holly Specht (right) and assistant lakefront manager Tim Amorella (left) look over the stand up paddle racks at the Gillson Park Sailing Beach. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
WHAT: Gillson sailing beach
SIZE: 800’ long, 300’ wide
BOATS: 179 catamarans, 290 monohull boats, 40 paddleboards
Updated: March 22, 2013 7:03AM
WILMETTE — The Gillson Park sailing beach is a popular summer destination for sailors, kayakers, windsurfers and stand-up paddleboard users — so popular that Wilmette Park District officials now face the same challenge traffic cops have on busy corners; how to keep everyone moving safely along.
Officials are eyeing potential conflicts between boaters and patrons who use the stand-up boards. With more than 400 boats and dozens of paddleboard users who call Gillson home during the May-October season, they want to find a solution quickly.
“The principal issue we have is that of a congested runway,” Park Board President Jim Brault said Feb. 11.
Right now, district staff are considering three general options, all of which they hope to research and bring back to the park board’s recreation committee on March 18:
• Moving paddleboard users just south of Gillson’s swimming beach, to a section of what is now called the South Beach non-swimming area;
• Moving paddleboard use to Langdon Beach, north of all Gillson operations;
• Extending the current sailing beach, which is just north of the swimming beach, further south, separating the two uses, while operating in the same general area.
Each option comes with its own potential problems, district Recreation Superintendent Kathy Bingham said last week. For instance, Langdon suffers from a lack of parking spaces, while moving paddleboard users to different spots along Gillson raises difficulties when patrons use both boats and paddleboards, she said.
Staff also must consider how much it would cost to move existing paddleboard racks, or build new ones, lakefront manager Holly Specht said Feb. 18.
“There are actually a lot of costs involved in moving (paddle board operations),” she said. “For instance, If you move paddle boarders you are going to need new buoys and anchors, and that’s a cost. You also have the costs of additional personnel to handle security wherever you move them.”
Stand-up boards, steered with a paddle by a user who is generally tethered to the board, have become increasingly popular, Bingham said Feb. 14. While district staff saw only a few in 2011, last year about 40 paddleboard users rented rack space at Gillson, she said.
Many of the users are still on a learning curve, “so they spend more time in the water than on their paddles,” Bingham added. “Sailors can’t see them when they’re in the water, if there are any waves at all. They fear they are going to have an accident.”
Bingham’s staff has asked beach users for input on how to cut the potential for collisions – none of which have thus far been reported, she emphasized.
Wilmette resident Mary Ten Eick and her husband Robert sail; Mary Ten Eick said Feb. 18 that the problem of how to coordinate sailors and paddlers “is a tough one.” She said moving paddleboard use to the south end of the sailing beach might work. If that happens, she said, users should be instructed to paddle south rather than north, in order to keep clear of boaters. She didn’t think moving paddleboard use to Langdon Beach would be practical because of parking considerations.
Ten Eick said park district staff handled security at the sailing beach better last summer than had been the case in previous seasons. Security — including making sure sailing beach users had proper passes — has been a concern with some boaters, she said.