Sneak peek at new Stuart Sports Complex
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I've always wished I could fly. On clear, blue-sky days, I'd gladly trade places with an eagle, a hawk -- even a soaring turkey vulture, despite its looks.
But, in absence of wings, I resort to Google Maps for a bird's-eye view. You can do this, too.
Friday: Mom & Son Dino Night, Eola Community Center, 6:30 to 8 p.m.
Saturday: Fall Festival (free) at Red Oak Nature Center, 1 to 3 p.m.
Saturday/Sunday: Pumpkin Weekends at Blackberry Farm, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Trick-or-Treat Walk and Costume Contest 12 to 3 p.m. Sunday.
Go to maps.google.com and type in Stuart Sports Complex, Montgomery, IL. Click satellite view for the full effect. What you'll see from afar is a wide expanse of openness -- unremarkable from that view.
Appearances, however, can be deceiving. So let's make a descent and land in the thick of it all -- starting right in the middle of this vast acreage between Jericho Road to the north and Route 30 to the south.
Wow. This place is hopping. For as far as the eye can see, there's action going on. Soccer games everywhere -- young players running, coaches instructing, adults cheering. There are baseball games at the park's epicenter, where four ball fields radiate like spokes on a wheel, each game pulsing with excitement.
There are tailgate parties, picnics, bicyclists, walkers, joggers, dogs, kites, playgrounds, games -- and a constant echo of giggles and squeals. Hundreds of people are here on weeknights during sports seasons and, on weekends and during tournaments, those numbers are in the thousands.
It's Lollapalooza, Stuart style.
We do enjoy our recreation around here; residents of the Fox Valley Park District have made that clearly evident time and again. In response, the FVPD is expanding one of the Midwest's premier outdoor sports venues -- from big-time to even bigger.
The expansion at the south end of the complex -- 135 acres worth -- will bring 11 more soccer fields and four new ball fields with lights. In all, Stuart will feature 37 soccer fields and eight lit ball fields across 400 acres of land.
Those wide open spaces will be full of action, to be sure. On an annual basis, the park district hosts more than 5,000 athletic contests between soccer, baseball and softball -- a number that will continue to rise with the growing number of sports leagues and affiliates and the increasing demand for field space.
Expanding Stuart was a driving force in the 2008 referendum that passed with 65 percent voter approval. The project includes nearly all of the "bucket list" items that top residents' wish lists -- open space, trails and easily accessible, multiuse parkland that appeals to a variety of interests.
Stuart hits a home run with the addition of bike trails that will connect to Jericho Lake next door and Orchard Road beyond. A 30-acre dog park adds to the family atmosphere, along with a full-service concession house, modern restrooms, environmentally-friendly natural areas and ample parking.
Construction is all but complete. Now it's just a matter of Mother Nature running her course as the new grass and turf continue to take root and strengthen in hopes of all fields being playable some time in 2014.
To that end, the park district is experimenting with a variety of turf samples to learn which are most durable and resilient.
Because -- and you know this if you've been to Stuart over the years -- this sports complex is a popular place, so it needs to be well conditioned to last each season. Starting next spring, athletes and fans alike will discover the grass is pretty green on the other side, too.
Game on …
• Jeff Long is the public relations manager for the Fox Valley Park District. Contact him at email@example.com. Visit the Park District's Facebook page for the latest photos on progress at Stuart Sports Complex.
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