Members of the Southwest Morgan Park Civic Association (SMPCA) and local residents are working to apply for a city grant to improve a Chicago Park District property in Morgan Park.

The greenspace, 11625 S. Oakley Ave., is officially called Park 581, and, according to the park district, encompasses 8.74 acres. It is located a block east of St. Walter Elementary School.

The plans of SMPCA members call for a walking path around the park—along with a few other updates including a new name—and they clarified their vision during a meeting at St. Walter on July 29.

Organizers have the support of local officials and were scheduled to host a meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 3, at 6 p.m., at the park.

Kenith Bergeron, acting president of the SMPCA, said safety is the biggest concern at the park.

“We have a number of seniors and runners and bicyclists who go around the greenspace,” Bergeron said. “Those people who are walking and perhaps jogging … there’s some people driving around the street at 60 miles an hour. I’ve been almost run over on Oakley with someone coming down the street at 50 [mph]. Safety is the greatest factor.”

SMPCA members plan to apply for a Chicago Works Community Challenge grant valued at approximately $1.5 million. Their application is due Aug. 30.

At the July 29 meeting, organizers reviewed several potential updates and rejected several ideas.

Support was evident for an asphalt walking track around the perimeter of the field, with 8-foot lights around the track.

Other requests called for exercise equipment to be installed, as well as 25-mph speed limit signs around the park.

Attendees rejected plans for a playground, metal benches and water fountains, and they said further discussion will be held about a concrete pad to be used for entertainment.

Discussion also arose about naming the park after Mae Carol Jemison, a NASA astronaut who graduated from Morgan Park High School, or Charles R. Walgreen III, the former president of Walgreen Company who lived nearby and whose family once owned the property.

As 19th Ward Ald. Matt O’Shea explained at the meeting, the Walgreen Family donated the property to the Chicago Board of Education years ago with the restriction that it remain open space or be used for educational purposes.

About nine years ago, the board attempted to sell the land to a developer, who planned to construct 33 single-family homes, but hundreds of neighbors signed a petition to prevent that.

The property was re-zoned to keep it an open space, and the board then completed a land swap with the Chicago Park District, which took over the property.

Attendees at the meeting also proposed naming the park St. Walter Field.

The park district’s board of directors has discretion over the naming of parks.

Organizers of the effort said they plan to form a park advisory council.

They also made it clear they want to consider the needs of St. Walter School in any proposed improvements.

“We certainly want to accommodate St. Walter and give them access to the park any time they want,” Bergeron said, “but the residents want to keep the field a field. They don’t want a playground out of fear of what it will attract.”

O’Shea said the park is frequently used for soccer and other sports. He supports renovations at the park.

“My hope is to continue to work with the Chicago Park District on making improvements at the field and invest there,” O’Shea said. “The residents, in my opinion, both when we changed the zoning several years ago and [on July 29], made it clear that they’re interested in passive greenspace; they’re interested in a walking path—it’s a safe place for people to go for the uses that it had been under at that location.”

Beverly Area Planning Association (BAPA) Executive Director Mary Jo Viero said at the meeting that BAPA is also applying for a Chicago Works Community Challenge grant, and she hopes to have improvements made at local parks, including Beverly Park.

She said BAPA is open to collaborating with proponents of improvements to Park 581 and perhaps teaming up to use grant funds at multiple parks.

Viero stressed the importance of local parks.

“I believe that the parks in our community,” she said, “are crucial to the vibrancy of our community.”

For more information about Park 581, email Bergeron at krbergeron@outlook.com.