The best cities often feature sprawling parks.
There's Central Park amid the skyscrapers of New York City. In St. Louis there's Forest Park, with its museums and outdoor entertainment. And in Chicago, of course, there's Lincoln Park with its zoo and acres of green space.
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So it's not a surprise that a town like Lisle would use the same concept, scaled to the size of the community.
PrairieWalk Pond and Dragonfly Landing are the endearing names given to the village's oasis on the west side of downtown between Garfield Avenue and Route 53.
"This is a great place to sketch, read a book, meditate, meet a friend for lunch or stroll along the paved paths, even with kids in strollers or a person in a wheelchair," said Barbara Plichta, who leads free tours around the park. "I've had amusing conversations with all the different people who come to visit."
The Lisle resident puts her years as a teacher to good use as she shares with guests her love of nature, gardening and Lisle.
Tours start under the Dragonfly Landing Entrance Arch that leads visitors past a landscaped dragonfly and into the children's area. The arch is the creative work of Chicago sculptor James Brenner.
For young visitors, there's a play and splash pad with cattail swingers, springy lily pads and colorful giant flower misters. The sprays are activated in four-minute intervals by a silver-colored button in the middle of the pad.
A green roof covered in varieties of blooming sedum shades a sitting area.
"The green roof actually cools all around it because it absorbs some of the heat in the area and holds rain water," Plichta said.
Tours begin at 10:30 a.m. Saturdays, May 5, June 2, July 14, Aug. 4 and Sept. 8, coinciding with the weekly Saturday outdoor French Market in downtown Lisle.
Amenities around the 4.5-acre award-winning recreational area include a lighted path around the pond, a charming gazebo with wood shake roof and hundreds of colorful native plantings. The village's prairie style is repeated on wrought iron benches, light poles and attractive trash containers.
The paved path is roughly a third of a mile, so three times around the pond would equal one mile for exercise-minded visitors.
The area serves as a beacon of sustainability. Informative signs tell visitors about the area's plants, preserved wetlands and floodplain/stormwater management. With a picturesque network of paths and open space, the central focus is a 2-acre man-made pond.
Eight feet deep, the pond holds roughly 3 million gallons of water. It was created to manage stormwater in the area and facilitate downtown drainage, Plichta explains. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources gave a $400,000 grant for open space acquisition and development.
In the Lisle redevelopment 1999 master plan, the 25 homes in this area on a flood plain were bought at fair-market value and leveled, explained the pond's tour guide.
Underground storm sewers channel the water to the East Branch of the DuPage River.
"During a heavy storm, the pond can rise 3½ feet," Plichta said. "The whole basin is lined with strategic deep-rooted plants with the purpose of sustainability to purify and filter the water so that it slowly releases cleaner water downstream."
Evergreen and ornamental trees grow on the perimeter of the natural area. Stone outcroppings accent curves in the shoreline and form scenic spots to view the pond.
In March, village Economic Development Director Catherine Schuster learned that the entire project won a 2011 Illinois Chapter of the American Landscape Architects Honor Award for Environmental Stewardship. Planning Resources Inc. in Wheaton designed the site.
Other awards the place received include: 2011 Chicago Wilderness Conservation and Native Landscaping Award, 2011 International Economic Development Council Excellence Award, and the 2009 Illinois Association for Floodplain and Stormwater Management Mitigation Award.
The green confines have more than 100 different native plants, grasses and shrubs in large sweeps of color and texture. A majestic silver maple -- 52 inches in diameter -- towers near the preserved wetlands. In proximity is a pair of bur oaks planted to commemorate 2010 Arbor Day, and this year's Arbor Day tree addition is a baldcypress.
The addition of a half-dozen bluebird houses this year are an Eagle Scout project by Michael Brotzman, 17, who hopes to attract bluebirds to the natural area.
The St. Joan of Arc Knights of Columbus keep the PrairieWalk Pond and Dragonfly Landing tidy. Nearly every day, a couple of the group's 12 volunteers pick up litter, monitor conditions, check for safety hazards and make sure the area is ready for guests, according to volunteer Dave Cascarano, the group's community project coordinator.
Free parking is available in the Garfield parking lot. Swimming, fishing or boating are not permitted in the pond.
At 11 a.m. Monday, June 4, costumed characters will help village officials open the park for the 2012 season. Plichta will give tours as visitors enjoy the sights and sounds of the pond's four streaming fountains that generate movement and texture in the water they aerate. In the warmer months the fountains are in color from 8 to 11 p.m. every night.
At Mayor Joseph Broda's annual State of the Village address earlier this year, he awarded Plichta and the St. Joan of Arc Knights of Columbus his Community Spirit Awards for their continuing volunteer efforts at PrairieWalk Pond.
Plichta plans to carry a large multicolored fabric flower leading her tours this year. She wants to make sure people will know to join her for a fun visit around the pond. She encourages residents and visitors alike to enjoy this wonderful area, and then take in a little shopping or catch a bite to eat at one of Lisle's downtown merchants.
• Joan Broz writes about Lisle twice a month in Neighbor.