Duwain Bailey, president of the newly formed Jackson Park Conservancy, speaks to founding board members and others at Wooded Island in Jackson Park on Friday, April 21, 2023.

The Jackson Park Conservancy, a private, nonprofit organization created to "assist in the maintenance of the physical environment of Jackson Park” and “advocate for the resources and support to repair, protect and enhance the Park," according to its mission statement, debuted last week. 

Members of the conservancy’s board, all of whom are longtime Jackson Park Advisory Council (JPAC) members and some former officers, celebrated the organization’s inauguration with a gathering at Yoko Ono’s “Skylanding” installation at Jackson Park’s Wooded Island on Friday afternoon, April 21.

Addressing a crowd adorned with the organization’s custom green t-shirts and new logo — a silhouetted great blue heron — conservancy president Duwain Bailey explained the impetus for creating the group.

"We felt it necessary to create a conservancy because someone has to be in charge, making sure that this peaceful tranquil piece of land is enjoyed by all,” said Bailey. “Our focus is to make sure that it really is cared for in as many ways as possible."

Elaborating on his statement, Bailey told the Herald, “Park conservancies in Chicago and across the country bring together relationships and resources to work in partnership with government, to conserve and preserve public spaces. They provide collaborative space for stakeholders — institutions and individuals — to plan for the continued preservation and use of their parks for all people. They help identify and provide for a multi-year shared vision and mission.”

“In Chicago, conservancies work side by side with PACs (park advisory councils) and others. The Jackson Park Conservancy looks forward to working with JPAC and all park stakeholders, just as the PACs in every historic park across Chicago work with the conservancies in their parks. The relationship is cooperative, not competitive.”

In other Chicago parks that have both a conservancy and a park advisory council, the organizations are separate legal entities with their own separate relationships with the Park District. 

All park advisory councils have formal relationships with and under the Park District that prescribe specific duties, such as maintaining copies of meeting minutes and by-laws in a publicly accessible place and annual elections of PAC leadership, according to the Park District’s advisory council web page. The current practice of most advisory councils is to focus on small-scale projects and activities involving volunteers, Park District field house staff, community members and school age youth and to advise the Park District on the needs of the parks.

Conservancies are independent private organizations that handle their own governance and communications. Conservancies can and do enter into agreements with the Park District that govern what a conservancy does in a park and often have by-laws that maintain a conservancy board position for a Park District representative. Conservancies also work with volunteers, but generally focus on larger capital and maintenance projects and enter into agreements with the Park District to plan, fundraise for and complete those projects, as well as maintaining them long-term. Conservancy board membership is determined by the by-laws of a conservancy, which do not necessarily involve a vote of the general membership, but can.

The founding officers and members of the JPC board are listed on the organization’s website. All JPC board members are also members of the Jackson Park Advisory Council, including Bailey, who unsuccessfully ran for the JPAC presidency in December,  and Louise McCurry, a former JPAC president. Overlapping memberships and collaborative efforts between conservancies and park advisory councils are common in Chicago.

According to several JPC board members, discussions to form the conservancy started in late summer 2022, well before JPAC’s December runoff vote that resulted in the election of Michael Scott as president. The conservancy’s Articles of Incorporation were filed with the State of Illinois in February of this year.

In response to the conservancy’s formation, Scott said, "I welcome any group that wants to work to support Jackson Park. The Jackson Park Advisory Council will continue its work, and membership continues to be open to all. I look forward to collaborating with the conservancy on areas of mutual interest."

The conservancy is in the process of becoming a tax-deductible charitable organization. The JPC board has applied for 501(c)(3) status from the Internal Revenue Service, a process that often takes six months or more. Once that status is attained, it will be eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions.

Doug Widener, executive director of the Lincoln Park Conservancy (LPC), which just completed the restoration of Lincoln Park's North Pond after a $7 million fundraising effort, has been advising the founding board of the Jackson Park Conservancy during its organization. During the local group’s debut, Widener congratulated members for their efforts and  gave some advice to the new conservancy. 

"Don't be afraid of dreaming big and don't be afraid of starting small," he said.

(2) comments

Ross Petersen

The reason we have advisory councils is to facilitate communication with the Park District, And to protect and preserve these Parks, for all. This conservancy is made up of former JPAC officials who were voted out - because they failed to protect and preserve the Park. We have had a number of organizations (Project 120) approach the Park district with what amount to privatization schemes, performance pavilions, the push to privatize Parks is never ending. Now comes this conservancy, on the heels of the Obama center, one can only imagine the "improvements" they have planned.

The wooded island contains an old-growth oak savanna ecosystem, over 4,000 years old. It's a mycorrhizal system, lives cooperatively with fungi in the soil. This is the treasure of Jackson Park. I can only hope it survives. The North pond does Not give me hope.

Terence herlihy

Indict Plan Commission Chairman Cabrera for adding the $176 million Tiger woods roadway changes paid for by us to the OPC review. It is wrong and stupid as anyone can see who knows that the roadwork needed for the Skyway needs to remain as is. Everyone thinks Obama is God. He isn't. His sponsors are developers who want Jackson Park deforested like the Amazon.

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