Hidden Beach exposed

Buckthorn-removal plan bristles some park users

Cut down the buckthorn around Hidden Beach on Cedar Lake and it would remove 70 percent of the vegetation, making it more hospitable for native plants to grow but altering its essential nature.

One could rename it Highly Visible Beach.

The benefit of such a change depends on whom you talk to.

For the neighbors and Park Police concerned about illegal activity, it is a positive change, opening the area for increased surveillance.

For the users who like a place to get away from the city -- to swim, play drums or slop in a mud bath, it is a disaster.

Christopher Loch of the CARAG neighborhood was one of the beach users who showed up at a Park Board meeting to protest the plan. "We have been shut out of the decision-making process," he said. "It is a wild area in the city. This is a great escape. That is what people like about it."

The course is set. The Park Police is increasing patrols. Park Board staff is poised to start cutting.

Park Board Commissioner Vivian Mason said safety is a big issue. She and the City Council members get calls from neighbors complaining about people passed out on their lawns or about

discarded drug paraphernalia, she said; "There are things going on here that shouldn't be going on."

Lt. L.A. Evenrud said heavy daily patrols have already started, focusing on afternoon, evening and early morning hours.

"It will be one of the bases for the mounted patrol," he said, adding that Park Police would also use foot, mountain bike and motorcycle patrol in the area.

Assistant Superintendent Mike Schmidt said the Park Board would begin buckthorn removal soon, and, despite protests, it would "take it all." In some areas of Hidden Beach, buckthorn makes up 85 percent of the vegetation, he said.

Keith Prussing, President of the Cedar Lake Park Association and a number of Hidden Beach users asked the board to go slow, clear a section at a time and replant as it goes. Prussing said he was stunned by the Park Board's plans.

Neighbors have legitimate safety concerns, he said. The buckthorn needs removal.

"Is the answer to radically alter the area? I don't think so," Prussing said. "I think the culture of Hidden Beach needs to be modified, not destroyed. This is a plan for destruction."

Jeff Lee, the Board's environment and operations manager, said a piecemeal approach is ineffective.

"Research shows if there is buckthorn within 300 feet or a quarter mile of where you have removed it, the seeds are going to come back in and you are right back where you were," he said. "You never get rid of it."

Chris Shaheen, a spokesman for the Kenwood Neighborhood Action Committee, a residents group created to deal with problems at Hidden Beach, said he was "astonished there was so much opposition to buckthorn removal. It is not controversial elsewhere."

"All we are asking is for people to follow the same rules they follow in the rest of the park system," he said.