Move of Beachside Music Fest Prompts Pushback Over Endangered Birds

The planned move of Chicago’s only beachside music festival from the South Side to the North Side has caused an uproar among conservationists who want to protect a pair of federally endangered birds living at the proposed site.

Organizers of Mamby on the Beach announced recently that the festival will move from Oakwood Beach to Montrose Beach, with tens of thousands of music fans projected to attend the event, scheduled for Aug. 23-24.

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Conservationists are seeking to halt the festival’s move because Montrose Beach is home to a pair of piping plovers, an endangered bird species with just 70 or so breeding pairs remaining in the Great Lakes region.

“Based upon the breeding timelines for the piping plovers the Mamby on the Beach concert could interfere with their ability to successfully nest at this location,” said Carl Giometti, president of the Chicago Ornithological Society.

The pair has established a nest on the beach and recently laid four eggs, which were removed by staff from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last week ahead of anticipated storms. The eggs are now under the care of avian experts at Lincoln Park Zoo.

Because piping plovers are endangered, conservationists from groups led by the Chicago Ornithological Society have set up a roped-off perimeter around the pair’s nest, with volunteers rotating in two-hour shifts to guard the area.

“The Great Lakes population has just less than 70 breeding pairs most of which are located in Michigan. There are fewer than 10 that utilize the west coast of Lake Michigan, principally in Wisconsin. This is the first time since 1955 that they have nested in Cook County,” said Giometti.

In a letter to Chicago Park District officials, the Montrose Lakefront Coalition, a group representing local businesses and community organizations, cited the endangered birds in requesting that the city prevent organizers from holding the festival at Montrose Beach.

“Montrose Beach is home to globally rare dune habitat that supports wildlife and plants that are listed as endangered and threatened species by both the state and federal governments,” the letter states, referring to the piping plovers. “The festival would put these critical natural resources at high risk and may constitute a violation of Article 9 of the Endangered Species Act.”

In response to the letter, Jerry Mickelson, president of festival organizer JAM Productions, issued his own letter.

“As long as this event is professionally produced, why shouldn’t I or any thousands of music fans have a right to utilize Montrose Beach and Park to attend Mamby?” he asked in the letter.

Paul Fehrenbacher, who’s a member of the Montrose Lakefront Coalition and also has a business at the Montrose dog park, said the main concern he has heard is the lack of specificity over the festival’s site.

“We don’t have a good sense of where exactly they plan on doing the festival,” said Fehrenbacher. “It’s been talked about on the beach but also possibly in one of the grassier areas if it isn’t on the beach. There’s still not a site plan. … I know the vendors are concerned that it lowers the ability of people to get to our businesses.”

But Mickelson said he is doing everything he can to address concerns.

“We had a meeting with them last Monday. And every issue they brought up we responded to,” said Mickelson. “The people at The Dock restaurant said ‘We lost money when Mumford and Sons came in 2015’ – well great! I wish I would have known that earlier. Why did you wait four years?

“And I said here’s a simple solution: We will give you a tent inside the fest to sell your food. The bait shop said they lost business and I said, ‘well you tell us what you think you are losing and we will re-numerate you,’” Mickelson continued. “The yacht club said there are too many people trying to get into our washrooms and I said well we will put security there. Everything they brought up we responded to and it’s still not good enough for them.”

The Chicago Park District said this week that it has yet to issue a permit for the festival.

Contact Alex Ruppenthal: @arupp [email protected] | (773) 509-5623

Note: This story was originally published on June 14, 2019.

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