Bluff Improvements

From 2019 to 2021, the Park District will be restoring and stabilizing the bluff against erosion across all five beaches, improving access at Tower Road Beach, and repairing retaining walls at Lloyd and Maple.

Progress Updates

February 28, 2020

Demolition of the old staircase is underway. Construction of the new staircase will begin March/April. The work is on schedule. The process of removing invasive trees and understory vegetation from Tower, Maple and the upper bluff at Lloyd has begun. Native understory vegetation will be planted this spring and drainage improved. All healthy native trees that currently reside on the bluff will remain. New plantings will take three or more years to establish and ongoing maintenance will be required in order to fully restore the bluffs.

July 20, 2020

The new stairs at Tower Road Beach are taking form! Approximately half of the staircase is built, including the outlook platform at the top of the bluff and the platform along the staircase. Over the next few weeks, the contractors will finish the remaining portion of the stairs and decking and install the railing.

August 28, 2020

The contractors are finishing up the remaining decking and the activity platform. In the coming weeks, the railing will be finished and native vegetation planted around the stairs. The project has been delayed due to the custom fabrication of materials.

September 18, 2020

All decking is complete and the contractors are finishing up the activity platform. In the coming weeks, the remaining metal posts for the railing will be installed, followed by the handrails and wire mesh between the posts. 

April 1, 2021

The new stairs are complete and open to the public! Contractors will be on-site intermittently until summer, but will not impact visitor access to the park, stairs, or beach. We encourage you to visit Tower and check it out for yourself!



Bluff Restoration & Stabilization

The bluff is the area of the park spanning from the edge of the table land down to the sand.

The bluffs along Lake Michigan are vital ecosystems that support plant and wildlife not found elsewhere. Because of the bluff’s juxtaposition along the lake and generally steep landscape, it is subject to erosion from stormwater, waves, wind, and rain.

Overtime, these vital ecosystems can become overgrown and infiltrated with invasive species that inhibit the growth of native understory plants whose deep root systems play a crucial role in preventing the oversaturation of soil and stability of the bluff. Coupled with improper drainage, the bluff becomes unstable and more susceptible to erosion — an issue that is currently affecting the bluffs along our five beaches.

Visible ditch created by stormwater runoff shows evidence of weakened bluff and drainage issues at Tower

Wall staining and perpetually wet walkway show evidence of drainage issues at Tower

While bluff erosion is a natural process that can’t be stopped, it can be slowed by implementing the following restoration measures:

  • Removing invasive plants and trees to give understory vegetation room, sunlight, and nutrients to grow
  • Replanting deep-rooted native understory vegetation to create a habitat crucial for bird and insect life and make the bluff more stable
  • Improving drainage to reduce oversaturation of the soil and erosion from stormwater

In addition to stabilizing the bluff and returning them to their natural state, these measures will make the bluff more attractive and enhance the views of the lake from the table land.

In 2017, Park District staff began the process of removing dead, dying, and invasive trees and understory vegetation at Tower Road Park/Beach and Lloyd Beach.

Lloyd bluff before removal of invasives

Lloyd bluff after removal of invasives

In the winter of 2020, the remaining invasive trees and understory vegetation was removed at Tower, Maple and the upper bluff at Lloyd. Native understory vegetation will be planted in the spring of 2020 and drainage improved. All healthy native trees that currently reside on the bluff will remain. New plantings will take three or more years to establish and ongoing maintenance will be required in order to fully restore the bluffs.

The restoration efforts at Elder, Centennial, and the lower bluff at Lloyd will follow the same process, beginning in the fall of 2020/winter of 2021 and finishing in the fall of 2021.

Conceptual rendering of restored bluff and new stairs at Tower Road Beach. Illustrates what plantings will look like once established in 3+ years.

Tower Road Beach Access

Staircase & Platform Overlook

Based on community engagement conducted during the development of the Winnetka Waterfront 2030 plan, residents expressed a significant desire to improve the access stairs leading from the park to the beach at Tower Road. The current access stairs are cracked and uneven due to natural slope movement and erosion, causing them to be difficult to traverse. This infrastructure replacement was identified in the district’s Long Range Plan and deferred to coincide with this bluff restoration project.

The existing stairs will be replaced with a new staircase with built-in seat walls. The new staircase will be similar in size/footprint and location to the existing staircase, but will include longer platforms and more gradual sloping to make them easier to traverse. Additionally, the staircase will be “floating” or raised off of the ground to allow for a less invasive approach to construction.

An activity platform will be installed along the staircase overlooking the beach. This platform can be used for resting, viewing the lake, and for exercise or educational programming. Additionally, an ADA accessible deck or platform will be placed at the top of the bluff with seating overlooking the lake.

Progress of stairs as of August 2020

Outlook platform at top of bluff (July 2020)

Conceptual Rendering: Activity platform along the stairs

Conceptual Rendering: ADA accessible platform at top of bluff

Entry Plaza

The entry plaza to the upper parking lot will be renovated to improve access and enhance the appearance of the park site. This plaza will include wayfinding and park signage and will serve as the entry point to the park and new access stairs.

Retaining Walls

Lloyd Retaining Wall

The existing retaining wall along the access road to the boat launch at Lloyd is in need of repair. Due to natural aging and pressure exerted on the wall overtime, some areas of the wall have begun to crack and lean, weakening the overall structural integrity of the wall.

To repair the wall, earth anchors will be installed. Earth anchors are horizontal wire or rods that are anchored to the wall on one end and to a stable structure on the other end. This reinforces the wall and helps it resist the pressure that has caused it to crack and lean.

Maple Gabion Wall

A gabion wall is a type of retaining wall made out of broken rock and mesh baskets. They have a more natural appearance than concrete structures and are equally effective at stabilizing soil and preventing bluff erosion. The existing gabion wall at Maple Street Beach was constructed more than 30 years ago and has begun to show signs of weakening. Weakened areas of the wall will be replaced to stabilize it and prevent future bluff erosion.

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