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Article updated: 1/29/2014 2:16 PM

Barbecues and picnics -- reserve your summer site

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By Jeff Long

We interrupt this season of shivering with warm thoughts of summer -- shorts and sunglasses, lawn chairs, the sweet aroma of smoky grills and children on the playground, laughing and squealing.

The Fox Valley Park District is already envisioning those dreamy days. On Monday, Feb. 3, the outdoor party season begins -- at least the planning part -- when picnic shelter reservations become available on a first-come, first-served basis.

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The park district features 16 picnic shelters for family get-togethers, special events, team parties, baby showers -- whatever the celebration. They're available for groups of 25 or more to reserve from May 1 to Oct. 26. Also, Waubonsie Lake is open on weekends through Nov. 16. However, Jericho Lake Park will not be available for shelter reservations this season as a major renovation project begins there in May.

Being that these are public parks, the land and playground areas must remain open to others, but your party will have exclusive use of the shelter, pavilion and grill areas during the reserved time.

Parks such as "Coach" Wilbert Walters and Montgomery Park are ideal for smaller parties (capacity of 30), while larger parks such as M.L. King and Wheatland can hold up to 150 guests.

Then there's Cool Acres, a picturesque riverside venue that features a farm country throwback-style building that can accommodate up to 200 people. And, the fact that alcohol is permitted makes Cool Acres even more unique.

There's an ideal site for every type of outdoor gathering, said Michelle Grobe, who facilitates shelter reservations for the park district.

"I first ask people the size of their group and what type of amenities they're looking for -- such as grills, playground equipment, sand volleyball -- and then we go from there," said Grobe. "There are plenty of sites to choose from, with picnic shelters throughout all geographic areas in the district."

Reservations are taken in-person at the Cole Center, Prisco Center and Eola Center during weekday hours. A concept book is also available at each facility, providing an aerial overview and numerous photos from each reservable park site.

Start planning before the nice weather arrives -- the most popular sites don't last long, particularly during holidays. For information, visit www.foxvalleyparkdistrict.org.

Winning the battle vs. snow, ice: Keeping walkways and parking lots safe during this frigid winter season has been an ongoing job for park district crews.

But they've effectively managed to stay ahead of the constant snow/ice barrage and now they're doing so in a way that's environmentally friendly.

A new anti-icing liquid tested at the Cole Center last week delivered promising results. Applied before a snow event, it works by creating a barrier on the pavement so snow/ice won't stick, thus making removal much quicker and easier.

Better yet, the treated areas will stay ice free for 7-10 days, eliminating the need to reapply corrosive chemicals like rock salt. The product is 100 percent natural, safe on all surfaces, will not harm vegetation and works to 30 below zero.

"It's an environmentally smart alternative," said maintenance supervisor Blake Ertmanis, "and it also works really well. So we're looking to expand our use soon to include the community centers (Prisco, Eola and Vaughan)."

Sounds like a plan on solid footing.

• Jeff Long is the public relations manager for the Fox Valley Park District. Contact him at jlong@fvpd.net

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