An extended walking trail. A wildlife viewing area. An elegant riverside esplanade. A dynamic neighborhood playground.
These are but just a few of the renovation and restoration projects recently undertaken by the St. Charles Park District. Some are essential but not evident – the installation of safety equipment at Otter Cove Aquatic Park, for instance. Others – such as those mentioned above – take place on a larger scale. All are part of the ongoing mission of the St. Charles Park District to be responsive to the needs of its constituents and innovative in the ways it accomplishes those projects.
Take the extensive revamping of Fairview Park, for example. This neighborhood park, situated at Oak & 19th Streets on the city’s west side, serves a densely populated area dominated by apartments and rental housing.
And that playground was past its prime. But instead of simply replacing old equipment with new, the park district created a master plan that would include an interactive water runnel, a ping-pong table, a shelter with picnic tables and grill, a half-basketball court, and a pergola with bench seating over three phases of construction.
And all of it was done with community input, the most they’ve ever received on a project, according to Rudow. After receiving presentations on three different concepts, local residents chose one by a nearly unanimous vote. More than 150 people came out to celebrate the park’s renovation at a grand opening event held on July 26, 2017.
“The residents communicated excitement over the new park, ‘this has changed our neighborhood,’ was heard more than once,” said Rudow.
Changing neighborhoods can occur one dog walker, one biker, one neighbor at a time. And the best place to meet those people can be on a walking trail, if your neighborhood is lucky enough to have one. The trail serving the neighbors surrounding Fox Chase Park was fine, as far as it went. But that was the problem – it didn’t go far enough. Originally installed about 20 years ago, the asphalt path started at the park’s parking lot but abruptly stopped after about ¼ mile.
“It was frustrating,” said Rudow. “If you were riding your bike or walking your dog, you could only go so far and then you’d have to turn around.”
So last year, the park district added another 1,400 linear feet to the trail, completing a loop that would create about a half-mile walking trail.
“Within a day of finishing it, people were calling and sharing how happy they were to have a legitimate walking loop,” said Rudow. “They said it was ‘life-changing’ and, when you think about the spirit of health and wellness and getting your steps in and wanting to walk and meet your neighbors and be out in the community, I guess it is,” said Rudow.
Trails for walking and biking, such as the one at Fox Chase Park, are among the most requested amenity mentioned by respondents on annual surveys conducted by the park district. And no trail is more prominent in the park district’s domain than the pathway that runs in front of the pavilion at Pottawatomie Park. As a destination for festivals and weddings, as the backdrop for photos of family gatherings and official marketing materials, the pavilion is the hallmark of the St. Charles Park District. But years of weather damage and the footsteps of more than 100,000 visitors a year were taking their toll. The original asphalt walkway was deteriorating, and additional decomposed granite, limestone and grass screenings needed to be brought in every time the area flooded.
The pathway was no longer ready for its close-up.
Working with Landscape Architects from Upland Design and contractor Hacienda Landscape, the park district removed approximately 650 feet of the old, crumbled asphalt and ancillary materials and replaced them with one continuous stamped concrete surface. The pathway runs in front of the pavilion and connects the parking lot at Pottawatomie Community Center to the riverwalk path that leads toward city hall. At its widest point, the path is 21 feet, and can accommodate 4 people walking abreast with room left over for bike traffic.
The remodeled and restored Pottawatomie Pathway is unique among area riverside trails. “We were focused in the design phase on not looking like every other interlocking brick paver walkway,” said Rudow. “We wanted our own identity.” Given the scale of the park and the pavilion, the walkway could accommodate a larger-than-average brick pattern – a grand 11×7” block instead of the traditional 8×4” brick. The color, too, is specific and custom made for the park district, one that is reminiscent of a terra cotta flower pot. In fact, the whole project was so site-specific that Butterfield Concrete named the color and brick combination “Pottawatomie Red.”
“If a visitor decides they really like what we’ve done and wants to duplicate it, they can order the ‘Pottawatomie Red’ from distributor Butterfield,” said Rudow.
A different type of river access was the inspiration for a capital improvement project at Ferson Creek Park. “We wanted to bring recreational paddle sports to the river,” said Rudow. And thanks to an OSLAD (Open Space Land Acquisition and Development) grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the park district received funding to add a low-profile dock suitable for kayaks, canoes and 60-ft. rowing sculls at Ferson Creek Park. There’s also a covered boat storage rack for those who don’t want to transport their watercraft every time they use the river. A new playground and rental shelter for parties join an outdoor riverfront classroom for nature programs and camps.
But maybe the most educational part of the Ferson Creek renovation is a new “herp” (for herpetofauna, or reptiles and amphibians) viewing area in the lagoon area where the old fishing pier used to be. A concrete walkway imprinted with the footprints of animals native to Illinois leads visitors to a limestone outcropping where they can view the various “herps” that call the lagoon home. A large cottonwood tree will span the lagoon, offering a sunning area for turtles and frogs.
“The lagoon is an amenity for nature lovers,” said Rudow. “With this and other new upgrades, we hope visitors will get out and explore some of the off-the-beaten pathways in the park district.”