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A bit of the Southland goes slip-slidin' away

Thursday, October 11, 2007
Daily Southtown

The Issue: Cook County officials decided to dismantle the Swallow Cliff toboggan slides, a longtime area attraction.
We say: The closing of this popular winter recreation spot is typical of the incompetent way our county is governed.
Disappointed? Highly. Surprised? Hardly. We're disappointed the elected officials of Cook County could not find a way to save the famous toboggan slides at the Swallow Cliff Forest Preserve in Palos Township and at three other sites. But we're not surprised. After all, when was the last time the elected officials in Cook County were presented with a challenge and wound up doing the right thing?
The six frighteningly steep slides at Swallow Cliff were a south suburban landmark. Thousands of children of all ages trekked to Swallow Cliff each winter for decades to experience a thrill at one of the few spots the mostly flat Chicago area could provide. On one weekend alone, about four years ago, 6,000 people showed up to speed 50 miles an hour down the 900-foot chutes.
Many children got their first taste of the county forest preserve system at Swallow Cliff. Any public official associated with the forest preserve, you'd think, would want to feature the slides prominently on brochures or Web sites. You'd think officials would do their best to keep them in shape.
But the laws of common sense that seem to apply elsewhere do not apply in Cook County. Anyone who ever figures out why would be worthy of a Nobel Prize.
The slides fell into disrepair and were deemed too unsafe to open in 2004. They've been closed ever since. Other slides in Cook County met with similar fates. Officials said it would cost $4 million to rebuild all of the county slides. That price was considered too steep, and efforts to have a private company come in and take control of the slides failed. The county sought bids for privatizing, but one local businessman said the bid requirements were so strict that nothing practical could be proposed.
So the county will pay $900,000 to tear the slides down. At Swallow Cliff, $400,000 more will be spent to regrade the hill to make it safe for sledding. That's better than nothing, but it never will be the same without the slides.
Local county commissioners Elizabeth Doody Gorman (R-Orland Park) and Joan Murphy (D-Crestwood) - who, like all commissioners, double as members of the forest preserve board - opposed the idea of tearing down the slides. The man who was Gorman's campaign finance director also had a plan to privatize the slides, but Gorman said he was scared off after his connection to her was reported by the Southtown in stories she thought were misleading and unfairly critical.
The bottom line is the county failed the south suburbs by not doing enough to save a worthwhile segment of the forest preserves. The money could have been found.
Earlier this year, we noted County Board President Todd Stroger's administration didn't think twice about moving $13 million from the forest preserve district surplus of $22 million into the county's budget. If the county had put some money into the slides and offered other winter recreational features, it could have justified charging nominal fees to help support the slides' existence.
When the county golf courses fell into disrepair several years ago, a solution was found. Of course, politicians are more inclined to golf than toboggan slides, despite their proclivity for delivering snow jobs.
Commissioner Peter Silvestri (R-Elmwood Park) said if the slides were allowed to remain standing but stayed unused, they would have been a symbol of government failure. That's true. Maybe the County Building should be dismantled. That, too, is a symbol of government failure.

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