As the saying goes, there's really nothing like being there.
Such is the case with Waubonsie Lake Park. On behalf of the Fox Valley Park District, I'd done numerous press announcements over the last 18 months detailing all the renovations and improvements taking place at this beautiful park.
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But a recent check-in changed everything and created an even greater sense of appreciation.
During that late afternoon visit, all the artist renderings and photo simulations and concept plans were now in living color. And these weren't just pictures, but sights and scenes of real people enjoying every aspect and new amenity of this public treasure.
Moms pushing strollers and moms chasing toddlers. Young boys fishing. A middle-aged couple, paddling solo kayaks -- together. Runners, walkers and roller bladers buzzing along the trails. Bird watchers with binoculars, pointing and comparing notes.
It was quite the scene -- a community park in all its glory.
It's what park district planners envisioned this park being back in the 1970s, when the area more resembled a suburban prairie. Waubonsie Valley High School had just been built nearby, and Eola Road was merely a modest, two-lane highway.
In anticipation of this area in southeast Aurora undergoing explosive growth, the park district collaborated with city officials and residential planners to be proactive, annexing large tracts of land bordering Waubonsie Creek.
They were quite the visionaries; this section of Aurora is now highly urbanized and developed, sitting in the shadow of Fox Valley Mall. But a good portion of the lands have been preserved and protected for many generations to enjoy in perpetuity.
The Waubonsie Creek greenway -- which begins at Spring Lake and extends well past Waubonsie Lake -- now consists of 232 acres, much of it paralleled by the highly used Waubonsie Lake Trails. Stretching three miles from end to end, this "Emerald Strand" provides a sanctuary of lakes, trails and peaceful preservation -- a suburban oasis amid busy surroundings.
The lake remains the showpiece, so a beautiful overlook was built at the west end. It includes a modern shelter and fireplace -- making Waubonsie Lake a true, four-season park -- with a sled hill alongside.
The creek mouth and spillway has always been a gathering point where people stop, so naturalized overlooks were built on both sides. New, separate restrooms -- always high on the list of requests -- were added as well.
A floating pier and dock provides easy access for nonmotorized boats. And in continuing its green practices, the district added a new, environmentally friendly parking area featuring permeable pavers, with bio swales and rain gardens throughout the new development areas.
This project -- like many park projects throughout the district -- was funded by the 2008 referendum in which residents voted to reinvest tax dollars into their local parks and communities. The district also received a $400,000 grant -- about one third of the total project cost -- from the state of Illinois.
Most of the improvements and new features came as a result of input through focus groups and open house forums prior to construction.
From the looks of it, many of those people are out enjoying this beautiful park on a regular basis -- and it appears they've told their friends about it, too.
Jeff Long is the public relations manager for the Fox Valley Park District. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org