Memories and excitement were stirred as planned improvements to Swallow Cliff Woods in Palos Park were shared at a recent open house.
"I think the new changes are tremendous, and I am very happy to see that Swallow Cliff is going to be improved," said Jane Ryan of Oak Forest. "I used to come here to train for a backpacking trip in Colorado when I was 50 years old, and I can remember how popular it was when I was training."
Cook County Forest Preserve District has partnered with Chicago-based Ross Barney Architects to design a new 3,000-square-foot warming shelter, concessions area, conference room and indoor bathrooms. Construction of the $1 million building is expected to begin next spring.
The district also has proposed a new stainless steel slide, additional fitness stations, an observation tower and natural stone stairs.
Swallow Cliff was built in the early 1920s as a difficult ski jump that attracted elite skiers from around the country. In its heyday, the Swallow Cliff Winter Sports Recreational Facility attracted more than 35,000 people to an event in 1929.
"Actually, in the early 1900s, Swallow Cliff was used as an Olympic ski hill," said Cook County Commissioner Elizabeth Gorman, 17th District. "We are always looking for community feedback. In fact, the community feedback in the '20s was to make the stairs uneven as part of the workout."
Those stairs will remain open during construction of the new warming shelter, officials said.
So far, only the warning shelter is funded. Long-term, groups such as the Chicago Southland Convention and Visitors Bureau plan to utilize the new building, which would provide revenue for the district.
"We want to market not just the area but market the experience, and we feel that holding a business meeting in the new warming shelter with an outstanding view would really appeal to our clients," said Scott Bort of the tourism bureau. "I can see this shelter producing revenue for the district and really adding value to the area."
Representatives from the Calumet-Sag Trail shared their interest in someday connecting the 500-mile trail to the already 800-acres of trails, woods and paths surrounding Swallow Cliff.
"If they were able to connect the trail, people wouldn't have to cross the street, and I think that would be a lot safer, especially for the high school sports teams that use the stairs," Ryan said. "I think the changes that are being made are just outstanding, and it's great to see that there is enough funding to improve upon places like Swallow Cliff."