It's a national recognition that most park districts are fortunate to receive just once.
This year, three area park districts could become two-time, three-time or even four-time winners of the Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Park and Recreation Management.
Park districts in Itasca, Lombard and Arlington Heights once again are finalists for the prestigious award presented by the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration in partnership with the National Recreation and Park Association.
The three districts are among six finalists from Illinois.
"To receive national recognition as a gold medal finalist is a great honor that really speaks to the partners, volunteers, staff and leadership we have here at the Lombard Park District," said Paul Friedrichs, the district's executive director.
The Gold Medal Awards program recognizes districts that excel in long-range planning, resource management, volunteerism, environmental stewardship, program development, professional development and agency recognition.
Applicants are divided into seven classes, including five based on population.
Arlington Heights is making a bid for its fourth gold medal. The district previously won the award in 2001, 1992 and 1983.
This time, it's a finalist in the class for agencies serving populations of 75,001 to 150,000. The three other finalists are from Mountain View, California; Roswell, Georgia; and Evanston.
"We are excited to once again be acknowledged as one of the top park districts in the country," said Rick Hanetho, the district's executive director.
Lombard is a finalist in the class for districts serving populations of 30,001 to 75,000. The three other finalists are from Georgia, North Dakota and Colorado.
If it wins, Lombard will get its second gold medal. The district previously won the award in 2009.
Friedrichs said the district is hoping to impress judges with its "sound" financial business practices and procedures.
The district also has broken ground on a roughly $9.2 million project to build a new recreation center. The 38,000-square-foot, two-story building is being constructed on the former Fairwood School site at the southwest corner of Madison Meadow Park.
As for Itasca, it previously won gold medals in 2009 and 2003.
This year, it's a finalist in the class for districts serving populations of less than 30,000. Glencoe Park District and Homewood-Flossmoor Park District also are finalists in the class. The fourth finalist is from Windsor, Colorado.
"We are ecstatic just to be a finalist," said Maryfran Leno, the district's executive director. "Maybe this is the year that the park district will bring home the gold again."
The district has 144 acres of parks, playgrounds, a nature center, a bird sanctuary, a water park, a depot museum and a 40,000-square-foot recreation and fitness center.
Officials say the district is "committed to the future" by being innovative, proactive and evolving. It also remains inspired by the community's past, they said.
A panel of judges will evaluate various aspects of each of the finalists before picking a winner for each class.
The grand prize winners will be announced in September during the NRPA Annual Conference.