Wilmette, News

Swimming, paid entrance and increased security are part of plan to counter years of problems at Wilmette’s South Beach

One of Gillson Park’s beaches is in for a big change this summer. 

Wilmette Park District officials announced plans during a March 18 Committee of the Whole session to transition Gillson’s South Beach to a fee-based beach with a designated swim area. 

According to a memo from Lakefront General Manager Megan White and Superintendent of Recreation Dave Merrill, the shift in operations will also feature increased safety measures, including the presence of lifeguards and heightened security personnel. 

The new procedures, the memo says, come in response to continued concerns about safety — for guests and park district employees — at South Beach.

“This strategic shift aims to address longstanding challenges related to the rule adherence, security concerns, and overall patron satisfaction and safety,” the memo says. “With the following proposal, we hope to create a safer work environment for our staff through a better patron experience.” 

Executive Director Steve Wilson told the Park Board on March 18 that the designated swim area at South Beach will be the same size as the current existing swim area at Gillson.

An email communication from the park district also states that slate dune fencing, the same that is used near Gillson’s main beach, will surround South Beach. Access to the beach will be through two-three entrances, per the park.

In past summers at South Beach, the park district did not permit swimming, had a free-entry model and did not staff lifeguards. This structure has “presented numerous challenges over the years,” officials said. 

The park district has experienced incidents of underage drinking and noncompliance with other beach rules, such as the no-swim policy. The problems have “strained interactions between staff and patrons,” according to White and Merrill. 

The district has also needed support from Wilmette police on several occasions because of alcohol and drug use as well as cases of assault and battery against patrons and park staff, per the memo.   

Current plans list the daily entry fee to South Beach as $5 for residents and $10 for nonresidents. Pricing structures at Gillson’s main beach will remain the same as previously proposed — $11 for Langdon and Gillson swimming beach for residents, $17 for nonresidents. 

Walking the beach along the water’s edge free of charge will still be permitted, per district documents, and beach staff will facilitate and monitor the procedures.   

More than a decade ago, Langdon Beach operated under a similar structure to the existing model at South Beach but then transitioned to a paid, lifeguarded beach in part because of overcrowding and rowdy patrons, Wilson told commissioners on March 18, per the minutes. 

Wilson told commissioners that transitioning Langdon to the lifeguarded, paid structure quickly solved the problems the district was experiencing. 

Park officials argue that implementation of the fee structure will “serve as a deterrent for disruptive behavior and contribute to the financial stability of the beach operation.”

Added staffing and equipment costs will be offset by the revenue generated through the shift in operations, Merrill and White said. Additionally, revenue will help enhance beach amenities and continue to increase safety and security measures, they added. 

Merrill and White also state in their memo that adding certified lifeguards will “significantly improve water and beach safety, addressing concerns related to unauthorized swimming.”

Park Board commissioners showed support for the proposal during the March 18 meeting and directed staff to move forward with implementing it, according to the meeting’s minutes. 

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martin carlino
Martin Carlino

Martin Carlino is a co-founder and the senior editor who assigns and edits The Record stories, while also bylining articles every week. Martin is an experienced and award-winning education reporter who was the editor of The Northbrook Tower.

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