Visitors come to Blackberry Farm expecting a peek into the past, but some brand-new features are coming soon to the park and living history museum on Aurora's southwest side.
A 2,500-square-foot performance shelter for live entertainment, a new restroom building, a boathouse and a dock for paddle boats are soon to be constructed as part of a $1.5 million renovation project.
The popular pedal tractor course -- where kids ride mini tractors around tightly wound curves in an enclosed pavement area -- is getting revamped, along with the events plaza outside the Early Streets Museum and the restrooms closest to the farm's entrance.
Out of all the changes coming to the 54-acre late Victorian-era farm complex, facility manager Sandy Smith said she's most excited for the redesigned pedal tractor course.
"That's one of our biggest features that kids really love," she said.
It's part of several interactive transportation options at the farm, including a miniature train around the grounds, a hay wagon ride along Blackberry Creek, pony rides and views of old-fashioned carriages, sleighs and commercial vehicles in the Carriage House building. Soon, paddle boat rides on Lake Gregory will join that list.
While families and anglers already bring their poles for catch-and-release fishing on the lake, boating will be a new option once a dock is built and a fleet of paddle boats is added, Smith said.
Having more and newer bathrooms also will help because the farm doesn't have quite enough available for the school groups that often arrive on field trips.
"The lines are pretty long for the kids," Smith said.
Farm employees always are looking for ways to make the experience enjoyable and educational for school groups, whose field trip funds may have shrunk as the economy continues to falter, said Laureen Baumgartner, a recreation supervisor for the Fox Valley Park District, which owns and manages the farm.
A class planned for next spring will teach kindergarten students about eggs and farm animals at the barn on the farm's property.
"It's very tranquil out here," Baumgartner said. "But it can get crazy with school groups."
The farm's upgrades will be built by Simpson Construction Company of Bellwood under a contract the Fox Valley Park District's board of trustees approved earlier this month.
The contract covers the first phase of improvements scheduled in the farm's master plan, which was created using public feedback from open house forums, user surveys and staff opinions.
And while many love the farm for its quaint, historic atmosphere -- birds singing, crickets chirping and a creek slowly flowing -- Smith said she's excited for the new features.
"It's just going to be great to have a new Blackberry Farm," she said.