|Formed||Consolidated in 1934|
Predecessors founded in 1869
|Jurisdiction||Government of Chicago|
|Headquarters||541 N. Fairbanks Court|
|Annual budget||$385 million|
The Chicago Park District is one of the oldest and the largest park districts in the United States. As of 2016, there are over 600 parks included in the Chicago Park District as well as 27 beaches, several boat harbors, two botanic conservatories, a zoo, and 11 museums. The Chicago Park District also has more than over 230 field houses, 78 public pools, and dozens of sports and recreational facilities, with year-round programming. The district is an independent taxing authority as defined by Illinois State Statute and is considered a separate (or "sister") agency of the City of Chicago.  The district's headquarters are located in the Time-Life Building in the Streeterville neighborhood.
Main article: Parks of Chicago
The Chicago Park District oversees more than 600 parks with over 8,800 acres (3,600 ha) of municipal parkland as well as 27 beaches, 78 pools, 11 museums, two world-class conservatories, 16 historic lagoons and 10 bird and wildlife gardens that are found within the city limits. A number of these are tourist destinations, most notably Lincoln Park, Chicago's largest park which has over 20 million visitors each year, second only to Central Park in New York City. With 10 lakefront harbors located within a number of parks along the lakefront, the Chicago Park District is also the nation's largest municipal harbor system.
A number of Chicago Park District parks are located in the vicinity of or even adjacent to a number of Chicago Public Schools. This design was done in order to make it easier for public school students and faculty to incorporate school assignments or physical activities into the learning experience. Additionally, a number of Chicago Public Library locations are sited within Chicago Park District facilities.
In the 1860s, Chicago already had about 40 small parks, but no central plan, and it fell far short when compared to other major cities in the country. Lincoln Park was Chicago's first large park, created in 1860. Dr. John H. Rauch MD, who was a member of the Chicago Board of Health and later a president of the Illinois State Board of Health, played a key role in establishing Lincoln Park by persuading city officials to close several festering cemeteries filled with shallow graves of victims of infectious epidemics. Rauch next formulated a central plan for parks across the entire city, noting that they were "the lungs of the city", and pointing out that Chicago's parks were inferior to those in New York's Central Park, Baltimore's Druid Hill Park, and Philadelphia's Fairmount Park. His influence was key in setting up Chicago's modern park system.
The current Chicago Park District was created in 1934 by the Illinois Legislature under the Park Consolidation Act. By provisions of that act, the Chicago Park District consolidated and superseded the then-existing 22 separate park districts in Chicago, the largest three of which were the Lincoln Park, West Park, and South Park Districts, all of which had been established in 1869. In the late 1960s, the district lent its support for a Special Olympics for developmental challenged children. The Park District co-sponsored the first Special Olympics at Soldier Field in 1968.
In the past several years, the Park District has initiated a program of renovating and beautifying existing parks and playgrounds, as well as initiating the building of a number of new parks, including Ping Tom Memorial Park, Ellis Park, DuSable Park Maggie Daley Park and others. The Chicago Park District has also expanded programming in neighborhood parks throughout the city, and created a lakefront concert venue on Northerly Island on the site of the former Meigs Field airport. In 2014, the district won the National Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Parks and Recreation.
Park District land hosts 11 museums in locations around the city. They are:
In addition, the district's parks host the free admission Lincoln Park zoological park., the Garfield Park Conservatory, and the Lincoln Park Conservatory.
The Chicago Lifeguard Service, or the Chicago Park District Beaches and Pools Unit, employs over 1000 as aquatics staff during the summer and 300 year round to protect the lives of patrons. Lifeguards are stationed at 23 beaches on Lake Michigan plus one inland beach, as well as, 26 indoor and 51 outdoor pools at city parks and 15 pools in public schools. The Service is the largest municipal lifeguard force in the world and is regularly observed by representatives from Japan, Australia, Ireland, Germany, California, Florida and other locales. The Service also covers more waterfront than any other individual lifeguard force in the world; Chicago beaches cover over 26 miles of the lakefront.
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