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posted: 1/1/2010 12:01 AM

Highlights from the Fox Valley Park District

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Amid the wrapping paper and open boxes still strewn around, we're reminded of an old truism.

It's the thought that counts.

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Every one of those holiday presents is pretty special - even the polka dot tie - because each was chosen with great forethought. Many of them will be cherished for a long time.

That's the same line of thinking at the Fox Valley Park District. Every year, the district presents its residents with appreciation by making their communities great places to live, grow, recreate and raise families.

This mutual give-and-take is a reflection of every resident's wish list that provides input and opportunities for the District to better serve their needs. It's an exchange of ideas that bears gifts in the form of community betterment.

While Santa was busying himself at the North Pole this year, the district was unveiling new programs, more events, improved parks and facilities and reinvesting in our communities. Here's a condensed list of highlights from 2009:

• Open spaces acquired and preserved: An additional 34.2 acres were obtained, bringing the total acreage to 93.8 since inception of the Open Space, Park and Recreation Investment plan in 2008. Significant acreage along the Fox River was secured as well, expanding public riverside access and recreation opportunities.

• Improved regional trails: The district extended its interconnected trail network to 40 miles and upgraded more than five miles through repaving projects. These improvements also will pave the way to completion next summer of the "Trail Gap Project" that bring the Fox River Trail to the doorstep of downtown Aurora while connecting a pedal-friendly route running more than 75 miles from Oswego to the Wisconsin state line.

• Ball field improvements: Big-league dreams won't seem far away for those playing on the district's refurbished fields. In 2009, the District put the wraps on a two-year project in which 43 ball fields were renovated, regarded and outfitted with new fencing, backstops and stylishly retro foul poles.

• Park renovations and celebrations: Five grand re-openings were held to celebrate the completion of renovation projects and upgrades in district parks. More than 1,200 guests attended festivities at North Aurora Island Park, Nature's Meadows Park, May Street Park, Montgomery Park and Spring Lake Park.

• Reduced carbon footprint: Plans were put in place to move the district's administrative and maintenance operations to the vacant facility on 101 W. Illinois Ave. Once complete, the maintenance sheds at 712 S. River Street will be demolished and the area converted to riverside park land and open space while providing a new trailhead for the Virgil Gilman and Fox River Trails.

• 1,516 new trees planted: That averages out to 10 new trees for every park - not that that formula was used, but it provides a measure as to how extensive the district's green-minded arbor program has been. That's 2,500 trees planted since the spring of 2008, with 1,500 more planned in 2010. Behold the beauty!

• Energy reduction, cost savings: With the continued transition to high-efficient lighting and the installation of photoelectric switches at District facilities, energy use has been reduced by 10.7 percent vs. the same period in 2008.

• Recreational revelry: More than 35,000 fun-seekers registered for park district programs. Highlights included the 49th annual Mid-American Canoe and Kayak Race, the new E-Fit room at Eola Community Center, the debut of the Fox Valley Amazing Race and a free Family Fun Night at Blackberry Farm that drew 2,000 visitors.

• Spring Spruce Up: Always appreciative of its many volunteers, the district welcomed 225 helpers for this first event that was held concurrently at 10 different parks and resulted in 105 bags of garbage and 50 bags of recyclables cleaned up. The event was so successful that an encore is planned for 2010 on Saturday, April 17.

• Hitting the fairway: Amid severe downward trends in the golf industry nationwide, the district moved proactively to secure a stable financial future for Orchard Valley. An agreement with Billy Casper Golf to manage operations at the golf course and restaurant will generate more than $5.1 million over the next 15 years.

Lastly, while it's tough to hit everyone on the list, the park district does its best. Nearly 2,400 programming and facility surveys - many of them filled out online - were turned in by participants in 2009, offering valuable feedback that guides decisions and planning by District staff.

That type of input and support from the community is vitally important - and it's a huge reason why Fox Valley was voted the best park district in the nation in its class (serving populations between 100,000 and 250,000). The National Gold Medal Award - which Fox Valley received in October - is ours to share and yours to wear.

After all, this is your park district. Happy Holidays indeed!

Jeff Long is the public relations manager for the Fox Valley Park District. Contact him at jlong@fvpd.net

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