Itasca bird sanctuary targeted for improvements
Bird lovers have long been able to visit the Ray Franzen Bird Sanctuary in Itasca to walk along its wooded trails and view the wildlife.
But Itasca Park District, which owns the sanctuary, is hoping to give more people the opportunity to enjoy the nearly 12-acre site along North Rohlwing Road.
"It has a lot of birds that are interesting, so bird watchers go there often," said Beth Rodriguez, park district spokeswoman. "But for the general public, not so much."
So park district officials are planning a renovation of the sanctuary that will add a dog park and several nature and fitness amenities.
The project is possible because the park district received a $363,500 grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The grant will pay for half the total cost of the work, which is expected to begin in 2016.
"If we had not received this grant, most likely the only thing we would have been doing is trying to make a very simple single pathway that could let people access it (the sanctuary)," said Maryfran Leno, the park district's executive director.
The property, which the late Ray Franzen donated to the district in the 1980s, has dirt pathways that have become overgrown. Leno said those pathways and former footbridges must be replaced to make the site more accessible.
As part of the renovation project, paved pathways, nature trails and a boardwalk will be created. Interpretive signs and overlook areas will be added along the boardwalk and nature trails.
"We're going to make it permanently accessible and have more amenities that everyone will be able to utilize," Leno said.
The other planned amenities include a new area that will be dubbed Heron's Hideaway. Located just south of an existing softball complex, the hideaway will have a picnic shelter, grill, baggo courts and a nature-based playground.
In addition, a dog park will be built east of the softball fields. An outdoor fitness station will be created on the south side of the property.
Habitat restoration work also is planned for the site.
Leno said the goal behind all the improvements is to maintain the sanctuary as a passive recreation spot.
"We want a place where people can walk through the pathways and read about nature and look at some birds and different animals," she said.
Leno said the design process will begin this year. Construction is expected to start in spring 2016.
Including the grant award for the bird sanctuary, the park district has received state funding for four projects since February 2013. In June, the district was awarded a $335,000 grant for exhibits and building improvements at Springbrook Nature Center.
"It allows us to do things we normally wouldn't be able to do," Leno said.