Park district reviewing long-range vision plan

Residents favor dog park, outdoor nature center, according to survey results

Eldridge Park has been cited as a possible location for a dog park in Elmhurst. (Photo courtesy of Elmhurst Park District)

ELMHURST – Strong support for a dog park and an outdoor nature center highlight a list of findings gleaned from a recently completed long-range planning document in the Elmhurst Park District.

After a series of overtures – including feedback from district staffers and a communitywide survey – a document dubbed Vision 2020 was recently completed. A draft version of the 226-page report was presented June 26 at the board of commissioners’ most recent meeting.

From the onset, district staffers enlisted the services of the Lakota Group, a Chicago-based firm specializing in urban planning. Company representatives were on hand at the board meeting to comb through details within the report.

“This has been a tremendous project, and we’re very pleased with the finished product,” Executive Director James Rogers said.

“The lack of a dog park puts the community in a deficiency, compared to state and national benchmarks.”

Between Elmhurst residents and district staffers, more than 3,000 people offered input throughout the long-range fact-finding efforts, according to the Lakota Group.

One interesting tidbit receiving the spotlight during the recent discussion was a statistic revealing 85 percent of residents taking a survey or participating in a focus group indicated they favored upgrading park facilities with tax dollars.

The Lakota Group did a top-down analysis of each of the district’s green spaces and facilities. Most locales were deemed in good or adequate condition, but there were a few areas of concern.

“Although most parks (54 percent) were rated as a B (80 to 89) in the park assessments, the park system itself is in fair condition with an overall score of 79, or a C+,” according to the company report.

The Abbey, which has roots going back more than 40 years, has long functioned as Elmhurst’s senior center. The Lakota Group in its report indicated the district might want to consider renovating the existing facility or looking elsewhere for a senior center.

The current facility was pinpointed as one area in need of improvement, according to the Lakota Group, based on community survey responses. One possible recommendation on the table is to relocate the senior center to a recently acquired property at 135 Palmer Drive.

A dog park was a resounding theme throughout the Lakota Group’s report. A large number of respondents favored one in Elmhurst; so, too, did Lakota’s experts.

“The lack of a dog park puts the community in a deficiency, compared to state and national benchmarks,” according to the company’s analysis. Eldridge Park was frequently cited as one of the top desired green spaces for four-footed friends to roam with their human companions.

As for the second highest item on the community’s wish list, the Lakota Group indicated respondents desired an outdoor nature center offering such amenities as hiking trails, an open-air shelter and courses for bikes and ropes.

“We’ve changed many of our visions throughout the years, which is good. That’s part of growth.”

No formal action was taken on the Vision 2020 report during its recent unveiling, though plans call for commissioners to vote on actual next steps at their next meeting at 7 p.m. this coming Monday, July 10.

Several commissioners said they were pleased with the Lakota Group’s findings, asserting the data provides a clear roadmap for the years ahead.

“We’ve changed many of our visions throughout the years, which is good,” board member Mary Kies said. “That’s part of growth.”

Commissioners on June 26 also:

• Voted to dismantle and dispose of old playground equipment at East End Park, 463 Schiller St.

The decision, which has come after several years of discussing the future of the park, has been controversial – at least in the eyes of some residents living near the park.

Jacqueline Schulz, who lives on Hampshire Avenue, attended the recent meeting and implored the board to reconsider disposing of the old playground equipment.

“This is something that has mattered to a lot of us in my neighborhood for quite some time,” Schulz said. “Our children cared for, and loved, that playground.”

Vince Spaeth, chair of the board of commissioners, said residents’ comments were not taken lightly as the decision was made.

“Every individual is important to all of us,” Spaeth said. “But we’re going back to our master plan.”

New playground equipment was installed elsewhere in the park two years ago.

• Adopted a resolution in support of taking continued steps toward preserving monarch butterfly habitats.

“The Elmhurst Park District has been a leader in the community in providing habitat for monarchs and pollinators since 2007,” Rogers wrote in a memo.

“Over the past 10 years, the district’s horticulture staff have worked to protect the monarch butterfly and pollinators by expanding the availability of milkweed in multiple natural areas of district parkland.”

Vision 2020 Plan Draft Final Document Review by The Elmhurst Titan on Scribd