Major plans are in place for parkland and trail space in North Beverly, near the 91st Street Metra Station, 9105 S. Prospect Ave.
Local officials hope to construct Brian Piccolo Park, named after a beloved Chicago Bears player who lived in the area and died of cancer, and county officials are eyeing improvements to the Major Taylor Trail, a bike and running path in the area, as well as to the nearby Dan Ryan Woods.
The Piccolo Park plans were announced April 25 at Halas Hall, the Bears headquarters in Lake Forest, with several local officials attending. The Major Taylor Trail project was discussed at a community meeting on April 26.
Mary Jo Viero, a community organizer for the Beverly Area Planning Association (BAPA) who helped with formation of the park plans, attended the announcement at Halas Hall.
Viero has a close connection with Piccolo and his family. She grew up on Vanderpoel Avenue in Beverly, just like the Piccolos. She recalled playing with Piccolo’s children as a young girl and that Piccolo used to jog through the neighborhood with a flock of children behind him.
She said the park, which would be nestled in an area just east of the Metra tracks and southeast of Maggie Cosme Park, could possibly include a peaceful, nature-themed area, as well as a small football field and statue honoring Piccolo.
She believes it would be a pleasant sight for passersby, including anyone riding the Metra.
“We have thousands of people passing that spot,” Viero said, “and wouldn’t it be nice to make it something useful and beautiful?”
Piccolo, a running back for the Bears, was only 26 when he died in 1970; he was memorialized in the well-known film “Brian’s Song,” and the Bears present annual awards to players who personify his spirit.
Running back Jordan Howard and wide receiver Josh Bellamy received the 2017 awards the day the park plans were unveiled.
Viero thought of the idea, she said, after attending a Beverly Improvement Association meeting in February 2016, where she learned of plans to improve what is now mostly a grassy area featuring a few trees.
19th Ward Ald. Matt O’Shea, who also attended the announcement, helped in the Chicago Park District obtaining the property, Viero said, and she also received approval from the Piccolo Family.
She believes the park can serve as a proper tribute for a man who is still adored by Bears fans today and was popular locally.
“He just left a really huge legacy,” Viero said. “Everybody loved him. He was super funny. My dad would tell me stories of just how funny he was.”
Viero also hopes that the 91st Street Metra station can be renamed in Piccolo’s honor.
Margot Holland, BAPA executive director, stressed that the park is in “very early planning stages.”
She and other officials were excited to join the Bears in celebrating the Piccolo awards, she said, but how the park will come together remains to be seen.
“We’re still finalizing the design,” Holland said. “I’m sure it will be [built] in phases. But we plan on fundraising for it. It’ll be a team effort to put the park in place.” The day after the park announcement, Forest Preserves District of Cook County (FPCC) officials unveiled their intention to improve the Major Taylor Trail, which runs near the potential park location, and the Dan Ryan Woods, which are located from about 83rd to 87th streets just east of Western Avenue and contain the beginning of the trail.
About 65 people attended a meeting at Wild Blossom Meadery and Winery, located near the trail at 9030 S. Hermitage Ave.
The trail, which was developed in the 1990s and officially opened in 2008, is named in honor of Marshall W. “Major” Taylor, an accomplished cyclist in the late 19th century who earned his nickname because he wore a soldier’s uniform while performing bicycle stunts. It traverses through Brainerd, Gresham, Beverly, Morgan Park, Roseland and West Pullman, as well as the Village of Riverdale.
According to officials, renovations to the trail could possibly take place at several major points: Dawes Park, 8052 S. Damen Ave., where they hope to create a “Mile 0” entrance point; the 8700 block of South Beverly Avenue, where a vacant watchman’s house might be demolished; and 91st Street, where the Metra rail line intersects the trail.
Possible improvements include way-findings, pedestrian crossings, water fountains, art celebrating Taylor, and lighting.
Improvements to Dan Ryan Woods, officials said, could include a nature play area and stairs on a sledding hill.
Improvements already made at the woods, officials said, include renovating a pavilion in 2013 that is used for wedding and large parties, and repairing an underpass on 87th Street.
Kindy Kruller, FPCC senior planner, said her organization, as well as Cook County Commissioner Stanley Moore (4th), have eyed improvements to the woods for the past four or five years. She wants the trail to link up more easily with the Whistler Woods, located south in Riverdale.
“We’ve heard a lot on the lack of connections and activity,” Kruller said. “It can’t be an island in this bigger site.”
Kruller said that after receiving feedback, the FPCC hopes to unveil what renovations will be made at a Dan Ryan Woods centennial celebration on Aug. 27.
Meeting attendees were encouraged to view renderings and write down their suggestions for improvements, which included installing stop signs and shelters.
Anne Alt, of Friends of the Major Taylor Trail, said the announcements are “thrilling.” Alt, an 11-year Beverly resident, said that when the trail opened it experienced initial problems. She also said amenities need attention.
“It’s nice to see the forest preserve district giving this kind of love to it,” Alt said.
Brenda Dixon, of the Major Taylor Cycling Club of Chicago, added that with her club’s 10th anniversary approaching next year, the improvements come at a perfect time. She grew up and still lives on the 11600 block of Bishop Street, she said, which is near the trail, and she hopes it can connect to trails all around Chicago. She also hopes the club can have a say in how the trail is improved.
“We’re really excited,” Dixon said. “We want to have a seat at the table to help with the programming. Tell us what you want us to plan, and we can plan it.”
Greg Fischer, owner of Wild Blossom Meadery and Winery, opened his new location in March; he formerly operated the business out of BevArt Brewer and Winemaker Supply, which he also owns, in Beverly.
He expressed his support for trail improvements.
“This is like a gift from God,” Fischer said, “to see what this trail can be—and what it’s going to be.”
For more information on the project, visit fpdcc.com/drmt.