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Vickroy: Warming station, bathrooms, concessions coming to Swallow Cliff

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Updated: December 11, 2013 6:23AM



Fitness buffs soon will find the 125-step workout at Swallow Cliff Woods a little less punishing. A warming station, with indoor bathrooms and a concession area, is among the improvements coming to the popular limestone stairs in Palos Township.

Cook County Forest Preserve District officials held a community meeting Thursday at the bottom of the 100-foot bluff that has become a mecca for workout warriors. The meeting was to unveil plans for funded renovations, outline possible future improvements and generate feedback.

Officials will use proceeds from a $1.3 million bond issue to begin construction next spring on a warming shelter building at the base of the stairs.

It will feature indoor restrooms, concessions and a meeting space, said Kindy Kruller, senior planner for the district.

“We’re also hoping to add some kind of patio or platform for outdoor fitness classes,” Kruller said.

The district also has funding to add a fitness park or fitness stations at the site and to make some improvements to a storage building at the top of the stairs that still holds equipment from when the toboggan slides were intact, Kruller said.

“We want to get that area cleaned up, add some more seating and start using the building as a warming area or shade shelter,” Kruller said.

About 40 people attended the two-hour event, including Cook County Commissioner Elizabeth Doody Gorman (R-Orland Park).

“The amount of people coming out to this site is unbelievable,” Gorman said. High school athletes as well as fire and police departments use the stairs to train on, she said.

“I’ve even seen heart surgeons and their patients out here training,” Gorman said. “So it’s nice that the district is able to make some improvements here.”

Scott Bort, public relations manager for the Chicago Southland Convention and Visitors Bureau, said he is looking forward to the improvements, particularly the addition of a meeting space.

“This has a lot of potential. There are several hotels nearby that could make use of this space, as well as motor coach tours,” Bort said. “This is a unique and beautiful setting for both locals and outside visitors.”

Sylvia Kuzel and Susann Burnett, of Hinsdale, are regulars at the stairs. Burnett has been climbing them for 15 years.

“It’s so beautiful here,“ said Kuzel, who grew up in Oak Lawn. “You can walk, bike, do the trails, do the stairs, all for free. It’s not far to travel to when you consider what you get.”

Eric Martin, principal with Ross Barney Architects, and Lori Nayman, architect with the forest preserve district, explained the improvements that will get underway next spring as well as some yet-to-be-funded ideas, including one they call “Chutes and Ladders.”

A ramped pathway up the hill would enable people in wheelchairs or with strollers to participate in the workout. In addition, two year-round alpine slides would enhance the experience, Kruller said.

Officials are working on ways to fund those projects. They are also looking for a concessionaire for the indoor refreshment stand.

Scott Murdoch teaches biology at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills. He attended the open house because he’s interested in the area’s “vertical nature.”

“Due to the elevation, this area houses some rare species,” he said. “The elevation creates a lot of micro-climates or niches not available in flatter areas.”

Murdoch said he is very excited about the plans for improvement.

“I’ve been coming here for years and always thought this was such a great site for humans, as well as plants and animals,” he said.

Chris Slattery, director of planning and development for the district, said, “Obviously, we need to be sensitive to the beauty that’s already here.

“We don’t want port-a-johns and Dumpsters to be the first thing people see when they come here,” she said, pointing to a row of both on the parking lot.

Jim and Mary Carol Mohan, of Palos Park, were at the stairs Thursday with their two children and a friend. They wandered over to the meeting area.

“I think this is a great idea,” Jim Mohan said. “When you live in Cook County, you’re not used to getting anything from officials. You have low expectations. So anything they can do is good.”

Mohan runs the Swallow Cliff trails at least once a week.

“This is a great resource for this area,” he said.

Mary Carol Mohan said she liked the idea of adding more family-friendly activities.

Edna Cisneros and Dan Grosh, both of Chicago, wondered if the district could build a second set of stairs, perhaps for families or maybe located in a sunnier area.

Sue Collins, of Palos Hills, owns horses. She said she came to the meeting to represent equestrians who use the forest preserves.

“This is a designated equestrian parking lot,” she said. “Why aren’t there any hitching posts or turnaround areas for trailers?”

Still, she said, the improvements are a good thing. The forest preserves are a big draw for homebuyers, she said.

“They’re the main attraction of the southwest suburbs, a big reason people come out here,” she said. “I used to live north. I came here for the forest preserves. Now I carry a Sox cup.”

Mark Hofer, who has been working out at the stairs since 1998, gasped at the mention of improvements.

“That means even more people will come here,” he said grumbling, adding that he “was just kidding. I like people.”

Hofer said: “When I first started coming here, it was sparse. Now it’s always crowded, especially on the weekends.”

For more information on the planned improvements, visit fpdcc.com.



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