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The fight to reopen Swallow Cliff slides must continue

Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Daily Southtown

The issue: New report says cost to repair the shuttered Cook County toboggan slides has increased dramatically.
We say: The forest preserve district must study all of its options and find a way to reopen the slides. Despite the report's gloominess, it appears there are several practical alternatives. The slides -- particularly Swallow Cliff -- are too valuable an asset to remain closed.
Trying to reopen the popular Swallow Cliff toboggan slides in Palos Township has been an uphill battle. But we're not giving up the fight, and it's good to see the local Cook County commissioner, Elizaeth Doody Gorman, isn't either.
The latest development concerning the slides' fate occurred last week when a new report showed that fixing and reopening Swallow Cliff and the county's other slides would cost $3.7 million. That's $2.2 million more than previously had been estimated.
After months and months of debate about the slides, the only thing that's been accomplished is that the costs have gone up.
The report laid out prices for several options. Repairing just the six slides at Swallow Cliff would cost $1.3 million. Removing the Swallow Cliff slides and the eight others throughout the county would cost about $900,000. Refrigerating the slides to allow them to be used all winter -- not just on days when the snow is deep enough -- would be $21.5 million. And landscaping the massive hill at Swallow Cliff for sledding would be about $320,000.
Slides introduced kids to the wonders of forest preserves
The report noted that traditional toboggan slides are disappearing in many areas because variable weather conditions don't always make their existence practical. From 1998 to 2004, the Cook County slides were open only 44 times, earning just $54,927. The condition of the slides has kept them closed since 2004.
That the slides were allowed to deteriorate to the point of being shut down speaks volumes about the way Cook County government has operated. The slides, on the days they were running, were one of the Cook County Forest Preserve District's most popular attractions and served to introduce kids of all ages to the wonders of the forest preserve system. But rather than make our ulcers worse dwelling on past mistakes, it's best to look to the future.
There have been discussions about possible year-round uses for the slides. Gorman, of Orland Park, is trying to keep that idea alive and noted the existence of an Astroturf-like surface that could make the slides useful in all seasons. That's an idea worth exploring. There has been talk of refrigerating the slides to keep them operable more often or even using a snow-making apparatus, similar to what ski resorts use to stay open in winter, but those options appear to be too expensive.
The county has considered privatizing the slides and other recreational features, another idea that should continue to be studied. A private company may be wary of taking over decrepit toboggan slides, so it might be worth it for the county to fix the slides and recoup the cost through their sale or a cut of the revenue a private company can generate.
Looks like money is available in forest preserve treasury
We also believe the forest preserve district shouldn't give up just yet on the idea of repairing and running the slides itself. With what money? you ask. Well, the Todd Stroger administration didn't think twice about moving $13 million from the forest preserve surplus of $22 million into the county budget recently. Obviously, there's money in the kitty. And a lot more could be had by cutting the obvious wasteful spending in the district and fixing the recreational features well enough to be able to justify charging reasonable revenue-generating fees.
The bottom line is the Swallow Cliff slides need to be reopened. There appear to be several ways to accomplish this. But disinterested leadership and excuse-making won't help the cause. We realize there are many matters that need attention in county government, but one of the forest preserve district's missions is to provide outdoor recreation. Swallow Cliff should be the district's signature feature.

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