Phil's Beach reopening on hold because of COVID-19 crisis
Initially set for Memorial Day weekend, the long-awaited opening of the newly renovated Phil's Beach in Wauconda has been delayed indefinitely because of the COVID-19 crisis.
"We are not sure if the facility will open this season," said Nancy Burton, executive director of the Wauconda Park District, which owns the site.
The beach -- a formerly privately owned attraction on the western shore of Bangs Lake -- must remain closed because of Gov. J.B. Pritzker's statewide stay-at-home order, which he recently extended until May 30, officials said.
The district hasn't even been able to teach beach workers how to do their jobs because of that order, Burton said.
"The earliest we would be able to open Phil's Beach would be June 20 (because) staff training still needs to occur," Burton said.
Located north of downtown Wauconda, Phil's Beach drew families to Bangs Lake starting in the 1920s. Both the beach and its giant, J-shaped slide were featured in the classic 1980 film "The Blues Brothers."
But the family that owned and operated the beach closed it to the public in 1990 because of rising insurance costs.
The district bought the property and about one acre on the west side of Main Street from the family in 2016. The renovation, which cost an estimated $3 million, began in April 2019.
A splash park, a picnic pavilion, a boardwalk and a bath house with changing rooms and showers are among the amenities that have been built. The land on the other side of Main Street will be used for parking.
With the beach's opening uncertain, the district has suspended the sale of seasonal beach passes. If the beach opens this season, officials may consider selling only daily admission passes, Burton said.
Burton noted many aquatic facilities won't open this summer because of the pandemic. District leaders are closely monitoring the COVID-19 crisis and will adhere to any directives from Pritzker, the Illinois Department of Public Health or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"The health and safety of our patrons and staff are our number one priority," Burton said.
The community has embraced and supported the Phil's Beach project from its inception, Burton said, and she knows people will be disappointed if the beach doesn't open this summer.
But Burton is confident it will open, sooner or later.
"Phil's Beach will always be here," she said. "We just have to wait a little longer before we celebrate the reopening of it."