CHICAGO (CBS) — Some neighbors in the North Park neighborhood have been seeking for months to get a private day camp kicked out of the nature center in Peterson Park, and took their complaints to a raucous community meeting Tuesday night.
Nature’s gift has been a source of harmony and discord in the North Park neighborhood. Some neighbors of the North Park Village Nature Center in Peterson Park have demanded the shutdown of the Forest Playschool, an all-season outdoor-only day camp.
What’s the problem? Earlier this year, several community members complained the area used by Forest Playschool has become unattractive. They also have raised concerns about the day camp’s use of open flames.
During a recent tour of the day camp area, the site was clean of any trash, or even debris from a campfire.
For nearly two months, CBS 2’s Lauren Victory asked opponents of the Forest Playschool to go on camera to explain their issues with the day camp. They declined, but invited CBS 2 to attend a public meeting hosted by the Chicago Park District.
Park District leaders clearly predicted some heat, as one official asked the nearly 200 people who attended to politely respect each other’s opinions; but things exploded, as people shouted feedback out of turn.
As a park district manager tried to explain everyone would get an opportunity to speak, Janita Tucker, an opponent of Forest Playschool, interrupted, shouting “we do not want it there in the first place!”
At one point, someone unplugged the microphone on the public address speaker.
“People don’t know this, but that 12 acres is habitat to a lot of deer, coyotes, and other animals that are making their way into our neighborhood, because their habitat is being displaced,” Tucker said.
Opponents also lodged complaints about inadequate supervision of children in the day camp.
“When we work in the gardens, we often have to try to get the kids to leave the hoses alone,” Nancy Katz said.
Neighbors also have complained about a debris-filled “adventureland” in the past.
Tucker said it was cleaned up in December, “and taken away by the city of Chicago,” meaning taxpayers, not the day camp, paid for the removal of the debris.
Supporters reminded neighbors that children who attend the day camp are learning to love the outdoors.
“The more there’s people in these woods, the more it’s going to be protected,” Sol Hinami-Mayorga said.
“The idea of nature play is to be in nature,” Matthew Mitchell said.
Forest Playschool’s attorney shot down rumors the day camp is unlicensed. He said they have a working agreement with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to operate as-is.