Not long ago -- circa the mid-80s -- the western boundaries of Aurora and Montgomery were vast swathes of open space, and not much else.
"We needed to do more with the land," Fox Valley Park District trustee J.A. Lippold said at the time, "and make more 'people-use' of it."
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Jericho Lake Park had just been completed, with a modest sports complex alongside that featured a handful of soccer fields. But, other than weekend games, a few fishermen at the lake and occasional snowmobiles whizzing around in the winter, the area had a rural remoteness.
And then came suburban sprawl, turning nearby Orchard Road into a major thoroughfare as housing developments sprung up all around and residents sought nearby places to play, enjoy the outdoors and indulge in recreation.
Stuart Sports Complex has since grown to 400 acres of action and activity, with 37 soccer fields and 11 ball fields -- all of them to be playable by 2014. Jericho Lake Park will soon join the modern movement with a slate of spectacular improvements to be implemented this summer and fall.
Last week, Gov. Pat Quinn announced a $400,000 grant toward the project as part of the state's Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development program. It's the eighth time since 2007 the FVPD has received such a grant and, like all the others, it will contribute greatly toward ongoing efforts to further expand outdoor recreation.
Jericho Lake Park encompasses 66 acres and features a 20-acre lake that is popular with fishermen and women and boaters. Intertwined by scenic Blackberry Creek, the park also includes an 18-hole disc golf course that is free to the public.
The master plan for the $1.3 million revitalization includes a new, reservable shelter and overlook at the northern edge of the lake, new restrooms, a second new shelter where the current one stands and a new, permanent dock and floating pier, built adjacent to the current boat ramp.
The district's commitment to green infrastructure is highlighted by a new, permeable paver parking lot on the north side of Jericho Lake that will bring the park's total capacity to about 140 vehicle spaces. The parking area will also utilize bio swales as vital components to the FVPD's sustainable stormwater management practices.
Paved and mowed trails will traverse the park and include connections to Stuart. Also, a regional trail will connect to a future regional trail running along the west side of Orchard Road that will be part of a road-widening project by the Kane County Division of Transportation.
"This extensive park revitalization effort comes in response to residential growth around the park and the voices of residents, who have expressed a strong preference for more trails and greater access to lakes and rivers and more trails," said Jeff Palmquist, director of planning, development and grants.
The project will become another shiny testament to the district's 2008 Open Space, Park and Recreation Investment plan that reinvests referendum funds for community park improvements, recreation and preservation of public lands.
Not only will Jericho Lake maintain its diverse natural features, but the dynamic plan will assure the multifaceted, recreational haven will feature opportunities for 'people-use' for generations to come.
• Jeff Long is the public relations manager for the Fox Valley Park District. Contact him at email@example.com.