State of the Suburbs: Recreation finds creative ways to expand
Unlike a private business where an economic rebound can translate to reinvestment, public recreation agencies are more constrained in what they can do.
However, through a combination of partnerships, long-term planning, tax support and other circumstances, there has been no shortage of projects -- big and small -- across the suburbs. Be it golf course renovations, fitness center construction or park improvements, examples of the growth in public recreation facilities and initiatives abound.
The scope ranges from the massive $33 million Heritage Park in Wheeling and the $17 million Oak Meadows Golf Preserve improvement project in Addison, for example, to the $170,000 installation of a new artificial surface at the Libertyville Sports Complex.
Also apparent in public recreation are new ways public agencies gauge their offerings, tailoring them to demand and making them more interesting and accessible.
Pickleball courts have popped up in many areas and new sports, such as foot golf, are being offered.
To accommodate an aging population, the Lake County Forest Preserve District is building some short trail loops.
The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County teamed with volunteers as part of its centennial celebration on the commemorative 100-mile Century Trail that connects 33 forest preserves.
The Forest Preserve District of Cook County determined there is a market for camping and is in the midst of a $29 million initiative to modernize or create five campgrounds throughout its system, including one near Palatine.
In Arlington Heights, junior tees are part of a $2.4 million renovation of Arlington Lakes Golf Club.
In West Chicago, the $15.5 million Athletics, Recreation and Community Center that opened in fall 2014 has exceeded use expectations, according to Gary Major, executive director of the West Chicago Park District.
"This has become a critical part of the community," he said.
Park districts and other entities are in the building mode for many reasons, explained Debbie Trueblood, executive director of the Illinois Park and Recreation Association.
"In some communities, the recession created an increased demand for local services," Trueblood said. In other areas, some facilities, such as swimming pools, have been on hold a long time and now need attention, she added.
"During the recession, park districts and park and recreation municipal departments played an important role in supporting families and communities," she said. "Organizations often expanded programs or facilities to better serve the community."
That includes the largest project in Naperville Park District history -- a $24 million, 80,000-square-foot indoor activity center that will feature facilities for seniors, those with special needs and others.
"It's the little things, too," said Connie Kowal, head of the Libertyville parks department and Sports Complex. Kowal is a longtime sports marketing executive, including a stint with the Chicago Cubs.
"If you have the programming and facilities and stay on top of your game and be imaginative, (there is) the potential to be very bullish for the future in terms of participation, growth and quality," Kowal said.
Here's a sampling of suburban recreation-related projects:
Heritage Park, Wheeling
Despite the threat of bad weather, 3,000 people turned out for the grand opening in June of the $33 million Heritage Park renovation in Wheeling. The project had been years in the making, said Jan Buchs, executive director of the Wheeling Park District.
"It was always a priority because it was in a flood plain and flooded all the time," she said, adding the necessary improvements always had been considered out of reach but were incorporated in a master plan completed in early 2009.
The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago was seeking water storage for its Levee 37 project to deal with Des Plaines River flooding. The village of Wheeling also was a partner.
The result is a 100-acre recreation and community gathering place that includes: a 10-acre lake encircled by a 1.3-mile trail; lighted synthetic turf fields; a performance pavilion and amphitheater; and fitness and aquatic centers.
The lake and six basins can hold 49 million gallons of stormwater to relieve flooding in Des Plaines, Mount Prospect and Prospect Heights.
Oak Meadows Golf Preserve
The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County is combining two missions in one project intended to enhance the environment and improve the experience for golfers.
Work began this summer on the $16.8 million Oak Meadows Golf Preserve in Addison. The two-year project combines the 18-hole Oak Meadows course with the adjacent 9-hole Maple Meadows East course.
The result will be a 288-acre project designed to restore natural habitat, improve flood control along Salt Creek, which flows for more than a mile through the property, and improve golf operations by incorporating elevation changes that will make the course more flood resistant.
"It was long thought if we improved the golf, it would take away our ability to hold stormwater," said Ed Stevenson, director of business enterprises for the district. "We realized it doesn't have to be that way."
Besides improving golf operations, stormwater storage capacity at Oak Meadows will increase by more than 20 million gallons. Twenty-five acres of wetlands will be created, 108 acres restored and two dams removed to enhance the natural terrain.
Arlington Lakes renovation
Arlington Lakes Golf Club in Arlington Heights has been a part of the landscape since it opened decades ago, but not much has changed.
"The course has been open since 1979 and we've never done any type of renovation except to add irrigation about 10 years ago," said Steve Scholten, executive director of the Arlington Heights Park District.
In January, the park board voted to proceed with a major renovation expected to improve the 18-hole course and attract new players and families. Construction began in June and is expected to be completed next July.
The work involves eliminating some bunkers to speed up play and rebuild remaining bunkers with a better quality of sand and drainage. All tees will be leveled and rebuilt and junior/family tees will be installed.
"It makes every hole no longer than 200 yards. It's more fun," Scholten said. Also, the front and back nines will be flipped to allow for 3-, 6- or 9-hole rounds for an expedited experience when time is short, he added.
More camping in Cook
Camping in Cook County forest preserves has been available only to organized groups, but that changed this summer as the district invested about $29 million to build or revitalize five campgrounds.
The offerings include Camp Reinberg in the woods of the historic Deer Grove Forest Preserve near Palatine. Deer Grove was the first preserve acquired by the district beginning in 1916, with the first 500 acres of the 1,800-acre site.
"This is the first time we've really had camping available to the general public," said Lambrini Lukidis, district spokeswoman. The other camps are in Northbrook, Willow Springs, South Holland and Oak Forest.
A few years ago, the forest district examined its facilities, and found it needed to attract more people to the forest preserves, Lukidis said.
"They did surveys and found there was a market," for camping, she said. That led to a camping master plan and introduction of new and improved venues.
Camp Reinberg opened July 1 and features: eight heated and air-conditioned year-round cabins that can house eight to 10 people; 13 tent pads that each can accommodate six people; room for small RVs; and, a large dining hall.
Each camping site offers programming and regular special events for campers. Gear is available for rent or purchase.
"We really have made the shift to market the preserves to families and individuals," Lukidis said.
Fort Hill Activity Center
This past spring, the Naperville Park District began work on the biggest project in its history with the notion it would include something for everyone.
The 80,000-square-foot, $24 million Fort Hill Activity Center, expected to open by fall 2016, will include a fitness center, walking track, indoor playground, cafe, multipurpose rooms and athletic courts.
During a groundbreaking in April, local and state leaders spoke of how the center would benefit the entire Naperville community and provide programming for seniors, families and people with special needs.
"This is a huge, huge deal for the community," Executive Director Ray McGury said. "There's been a lot of excitement in the community."
• Wilson Road underpass, Round Lake: The Lake County Forest Preserve District plans to complete a bike/pedestrian underpass at Wilson Road near the Marl Flat Forest Preserve. Federal funding paid 80 percent of the project, which will connect with a half-mile trail to complete the western leg of the Millennium Trail and Greenway.
• Athletics, Recreation and Community Center, West Chicago: The $15.5 million West Chicago Park District facility opened in September 2014.
• The Mount Prospect Golf Club, Mount Prospect: The club reopened in August 2015 after a restoration to return the course to its 1926 roots. The estimated $8.4 million renovation plan includes new irrigation and drainage systems, an expanded and relocated driving range and various changes to all 18 holes.
• Foglia YMCA gym expansion, Lake Zurich: The expansion, which debuted in January, features a new basketball court with six additional hoops, a climbing wall, ropes course and two 1,000-square-foot multipurpose classrooms.
• Community Recreation Center renovation, Schaumburg: Driven by a citizen survey, the Schaumburg Park District's $2.5 million enhancement and expansion of the 36-year-old center includes 22,000 square feet of new and renovated program and fitness space.
• Century Trail, DuPage County: As part of a yearlong celebration, the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County in July unveiled Century Trail, a 100-mile trail to honor its 100th anniversary. Century Trail travels through 33 forest preserves, including the district's 10 most popular.
• Fountain View Recreation Center, Carol Stream: The 90,846-square-foot center opened in September 2013. The $19 million facility was the largest construction project in the history of the Carol Stream Park District and the largest of a $37 million voter-approved parks improvement program.