Chicago Riverwalk, Chicago River boat tours reopen with restrictions, limited capacity

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The Chicago Riverwalk has finally reopened to the public after 11 long weeks.

The partial reopening began at 5 a.m. when the Riverwalk reopened for exercise. At 10 a.m. there was a cleaning, and at 11 a.m. the concessions along the river opened their doors.

"It was wonderful," said Jacki Meirsonne. "I walked all around and this was the only thing open. The gates are still closed so I walked up and down, and up and down, but it's awesome. I love it."

The city said the Riverwalk's path will be open in full from Lake Street to the Lakefront, from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. for exercise only. After the hour of cleaning, at 11 a.m., the Riverwalk will then be open between Lake and LaSalle Streets.

From 11 a.m. through 9 p.m. the Riverwalk's Concession Program will open to diners with reservations only. Each establishment is also required to space tables at least six feet apart.

Friends Erica Chan and Chris Vaughn hadn't seen each other since March. They chose to meet at the Riverwalk wearing masks Chan made.

"It's good to be outside," Vaughn said. "It's like things are getting back to normal, whatever the new normal is."

"It's a little scary, because about half the people are wearing masks and half are not, but it's nice to see there are options and people won't have to go stir crazy," Chan said.

Along with the Riverwalk, Chicagoans and visitors alike can get a view of the city they haven't had since march, as sightseeing boat tours also returned to the Chicago River.

"It's a pleasure to get out, see people enjoying themselves, walking the dogs, jogging," said Randall Ricks, Wendella Boat Tour customer

Boat tours are now operating at 25 percent capacity. Passengers are required to wear masks, and the boat is disinfected after every tour.

"The seats, the tables, the hand rails," explained Craig Wenokur of Wendella Boat Tours. "We've got one-way stair cases on the boat, which we've never had. We have one-way passageways on the boat."

Limited recreation areas on the Riverwalk will be at:
-Lake Street and LaSalle Street - Access at Lake Street, ADA ramp between Franklin and Lake or East LaSalle Street.
-Vietnam Veterans Memorial - ADA ramp at State Street
-Michigan Plaza - Use West Michigan Avenue-

-Columbus Plaza - Use Columbus Stairs
-Sweet Home Gelato - West LaSalle Street

Barriers will be placed east of La Salle, shutting down pedestrian access between the bridges to create space for those dining.

Restaurants and vendors open for reservation:
-Tiny Tapp & Café - West Dearborn
-City Winery - East Dearborn
-Chicago Brewhouse - West Wabash Stairway
-Beat Kitchen and Community Marketplace West Michigan Avenue

-Chicago's First Lady and Mercury Sightseeing Cruises - East Michigan
-Urban Kayaks, Island Party, The Northman - Columbus

The launch of the full number of vendors will be phased in over the coming weeks.

"We got the email Monday that you can open Friday," said Robert Gomez, owner of Beat Kitchen. "Nobody saw it coming. I thought the river, for sure some of the narrow paths, would be stage four or five."

Gomez has been trying to open up a Riverwalk outpost to his Roscoe Village restaurant Beat Kitchen for two years now. He was set to open in time for the St. Patrick's Day parade, when the state shut down.

"We have plenty of space," Gomez said. "The path is going to be closed so they've allowed us to use some of the path so we can sprout out tables there."

Lynsey Panek, a runner, is looking forward to the reopening.

"It's definitely been hard to keep inside," Panek said. "So it will be nice and kind of feel like a new normal, a normal summer. So it's exciting."

The lakefront path remains closed, for now. So walkers or runners using the river will have to turn around when they reach the eastern end of the Riverwalk.

And while summer festivals are unlikely this year, streets on the North Side closed to traffic in a pilot program to test expanded outdoor dining. If the next two weekends are a success, more streets around the city could close for the same recreational purposes.
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