Archery's popularity surged this spring when "The Hunger Games" and its bow-wielding heroine came to theaters.
Then at this summer's Olympic Games in London, archery attracted roughly 1.5 million viewers on cable networks, according to NBC.
Now, DuPage County residents can test their own skills Saturday, Aug. 18, when Blackwell Forest Preserve near Warrenville plays host to the grand opening of its upgraded archery and recreation complex.
The forest preserve district also will celebrate the opening of its $1.7 million Urban Stream Research center on Saturday, giving visitors a glimpse of an unusual facility that will improve local waterways.
"Archery has probably been the fastest-growing outdoor activity we have at the forest preserve," district President D. "Dewey" Pierotti Jr. said. "There are always lines of people waiting to use it."
Although archery was previously offered at Blackwell, workers have spent months completing $504,000 in upgrades. As one of the few public ranges in the Chicago area, the facility now offers more than 35 targets in three different spaces: a beginner area with eight lanes, an advanced area with 11 lanes, and an interactive range with two-dimensional targets hidden in natural vegetation.
Other new recreational amenities at the site include a wheelchair-accessible fishing pier on Sand Pond; a 3-acre picnic area with a shelter to accommodate 50 people; a new trailhead that connects to Blackwell's existing 9-mile trail system; and expanded parking for more than 100 cars.
All upgrades and the archery range were funded in part by a $252,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources' Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development Program. The district then matched the grant with another $252,000 in referendum bonds.
Archery and fishing instructors will teach visitors the basics of both sports, including supplying the equipment, and will lead open houses from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Instructors also will teach about the history of archery and the different types of equipment, and lead catch-and-release fishing.
Children younger than 18 must be accompanied by an adult for archery, and children younger than 16 must be with an adult to fish.
Visitors also can explore the nearby Urban Stream Research Center, which is the only facility of its kind in Illinois. A ribbon-cutting will be at 9 a.m. and guided tours of the laboratory space will follow from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Forest preserve staff will use the facility to monitor, raise and reintroduce native mussels and nongame fish to local waters. Universities and conservation agencies will use the facility for projects covering a variety of disciplines.
The $1.7 million project was funded through a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The grant was secured by the DuPage County Stormwater Management Division and administered by the county in partnership with the forest preserve. DuPage County also provided project oversight during the building's construction.
County stormwater committee Chairman Jim Zay said the research center is the logical next step following the lengthy thorium cleanup of the West Branch of the DuPage River.
"We've been doing so much restoration ... we've essentially set the river back to its original state," Zay said. "We are bringing back species of fish that haven't been there for years. Now we can actually teach young children and high school kids about this work, and universities can come out and see how this restoration is basically a rebirth."
To reach the archery area and Urban Stream Research Center, visitors should travel through Blackwell's main entrance on Butterfield Road one mile east of Route 59, then turn at the first left along the preserve's roadway. The ribbon-cutting will be at the picnic shelter.