Wednesday, August 21, 2013

One Person Can Make a Difference


August 18,2013
How one person can make a big difference
Yesterday, August 17th, I attended the dedication of Park No. 499(not to be confused with 503) in the southeast side of Chicago in honor of John “Beans” Beniac.  Mr. Beniac was a local resident of 10735 Avenue D.
Following open heart surgery, Beans started cleaning up the “prairie” across the street from his house as exercise and something to do. He started by picking up trash; 40 wheelbarrows of junk including tires and car batteries. Then he started mowing the area. The more he did, the more there was to do.
His neighbor’s  saw what he was doing and joined in. One started from the other end of the street and started mowing down the where Beans had stopped. Other residents contributed flowers, benches and hard work. Eventually, a bocce ball court was installed. This was back in the early 80’s.
The area became the site for many July 4th and Labor Day parties. Legend has it that Beans would make his own “bombs” to explode on Independence Day but no evidence(wink-wink) exists to verify this.
Beans died in 1994 but the park lived on. Local residents and volunteers continued to make improvements to the strip of land. John Pastirik, David Vance and Karen Roothaan just to name a few.
A paved bicycle path now runs through the park and is heavily used.  This is part of the Burnham Greenway, which is composed of two trails—Burnham Greenway North and Burnham Greenway South—that run along a former railroad corridor between Chicago and Lansing, Illinois. There are plans to extend and connect these short sections, which will create 11 miles of trail through some of this urban environment’s best natural areas.
There was a good turnout for the dedication on another beautiful Chicago summer day. The Beniac family was well represented and Alderman John Pope was there as well as leadership from the Chicago Park District, Calumet Ecological Park Association and Southeast Environmental Task Force.
John “Beans” Beniac Park is a great example of how one person lead and others followed. Throughout history there are many stories where an idea was acted upon and snowballed into a movement. Don’t be afraid do what you think is right even if you are only one person. If you do it they will follow.

Friday, August 2, 2013


One of the more hideous features of the Illinois International Port District (IIPD) property at Lake Calumet is the tall, concertina-wire fence that encircles this once-popular and beneficial lake on Chicago's far-south side. The property has been in the news lately due to a major announcement about privatizing Chicago's port operations, and resulting scrutiny of the current management at IIPD.
Since the settlers first came to Chicago and before, this spot had been a thriving, life-filled area teeming with fish and wildlife. For generations it was, for many Chicagoans, a recreational destination rich with opportunities to hunt, trap and fish. It was a playground for this writer and innumerable others that grew up and lived in the nearby neighborhoods. The lake and the surroundings are still considered one of the top birding areas of the state; it is the centerpiece of the Calumet flyover for migratory birds, and the waters still harbor an abundance of various fish species.

Years of uncontrolled dumping by industry, with the complicity of government have shrunken, unmercifully altered, and polluted what had been regarded as "Chicago's other lake."

But a group of environmentalists including Openlands, Southeast Environmental Task Force, Friends of the Parks, Calumet Ecological Park Association, Alliance for the Great Lakes, Pullman Civic Organization, Audubon Society and others have been diligently working to "open up" Lake Calumet to the public once again. Their committee has been pursuing a Lake Calumet Vision plan for over 15 years -a plan to allow hiking, fishing, birdwatching, picnicking, camping, unmotorized boating, etc.

Just as the board and the operations of the Illinois International Port District need to become transparent and more accountable, it is time to reopen the unused portion of Lake Calumet area for the public to enjoy once again.

Tom Shepherd, Pullman
Lake Calumet Vision Committee