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Official, residents say county to blame in toboggan runs' ruin

Friday, January 07, 2005
Chicago Tribune
by Alex P. Kellogg

Adrienne O'Brien has been bringing her children to sled at the Caldwell Woods Forest Preserve on Chicago's Northwest Side for six years, but snow or no snow, she's never seen the reserve's fenced-in toboggan run open.

"When I moved to this neighborhood, we actually bought a toboggan so we could go on the toboggan run," O'Brien said. "Little did we know that this toboggan run would never be open."

O'Brien joined about a half-dozen other mothers and Commissioner Forrest Claypool (D-Chicago) at Caldwell Woods Thursday to protest the Cook County Forest Preserve District's decision, announced this week, to close the district's toboggan runs.

Claypool and his supporters say cuts to the county's budget could easily make room for the more than $1.5 million county officials estimate it would take to repair the toboggan runs.

"The shuttered toboggan slide behind us is really indicative of everything that is wrong with Cook County government," Claypool said as scores of children frolicked whilesledding down a nearby hill, separated from the toboggan runs by a barbed-wire fence. "It is a government that is legendary for its waste and its bloat."

Claypool suggested the county cut a handful of high-paying jobs so it can divert funds to its forest preserves. It's a move district officials say is highly unlikely.

"These closures are not a great surprise to anyone, including, frankly, Commissioner Claypool," said Steve Mayberry, a spokesman for the Forest Preserve District. "Barring an infusion of money that just doesn't seem to be there, the situation won't improve anytime soon."

The slides are made mostly of wood, which has buckled and warped. Almost all of the forest preserve toboggans are damaged.

District officials estimate that it would cost $122,000 to repair the significant structural damage to the Caldwell Woods Jensen Toboggan Slide. They estimate that it would cost nearly $1.5 million to repair the slides at Swallow Cliff in Palos Park, Bemis Woods in Western Springs, Dan Ryan Woods in South Chicago and Deer Grove in Palatine--the four other parks whose toboggan runs have been closed indefinitely.

Last year district officials tried to privatize the slides, but no buyer emerged that met their criteria. Mayberry suggested the district might consider proposals in which bidders removed the slides and replaced them with other recreational opportunities.

"We hope to come up with a viable solution to the closings," Mayberry said. "It might take some time, though."

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