ST. CHARLES – The St. Charles Park District recently received two grants that will help fund improvements at Pottawatomie Park and the extension of the Great Western Trail.
The park district received a $248,600 matching grant for Pottawatomie Park improvements through the state's Open Space Land Acquisition and Development program, administered by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
As part of the project, a 26-year-old playground at the park will be replaced.
"It's past its useful life and needs to be replaced anyway," said Laura Rudow, superintendent of parks and planning for the St. Charles Park District.
The new playground will be fully accessible to those children who might have special needs, she said.
"It's so that all the kids can play together, so that our day camp is having recess time with the Fox Valley Special Recreation Association day camp that's here at the park and in the spirit of inclusivity of having everybody play together," Rudow said. "We knew with a district of this size, we really needed to have that special needs playground somewhere. And to put it in the most popular park, that is the most visited, with the best parking and the best accessibility, ensures that it will be used the most."
A sensory garden also will be put near the playground. Plans also are to add a third pavilion at the park in order to meet demand. Rudow noted that Pottawatomie Park is the district's most popular park and is also a regional draw, with 100,000 or more people coming through the park in a season.
"We have enough square footage over there to add a third shelter/pavilion," Rudow said. "During the day, it will be a great place for the day camps to hang out and for families just to get out of the sun, but then on weekends, it will be available so groups can rent it and have their family reunions and family picnics and all that kind of fun stuff."
The lighting at Pottawatomie Park's tennis courts also will be updated as part of the project. The park – located along the east side of the Fox River near the city's downtown – has seen its share of improvements in recent years.
"Two years ago, we took all of the asphalt out of the park and put stained stamped concrete pathways through it," Rudow said. "A couple of years before that, the whole front of our mini golf course was all reconstructed to be more accessible and more attractive."
In addition, there was a $6 million renovation of the park's Swanson Pool in 2010-2011. The upcoming project is set to get started in the fall of 2020, with completion set for later that year.
"Since we've already started taking picnic reservations and we already have special events scheduled in this park all year this year, taking that big of an amenity out of the mix right now wouldn't please our participants or our customers," Rudow said.
In addition to that project, the St. Charles Park District is one step closer to extending the Great Western Trail from Randall Road to the Fox River. For that project, the district recently received a Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund matching grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for $473,860.
The grant will allow the district to acquire the property owned by the Union Pacific Railroad. The Great Western Trail extension has been an ongoing project for the St. Charles Park District, which has been working in collaboration with other governmental agencies such as the city of St. Charles, Kane County and the Forest Preserve District of Kane County to acquire the land from the railroad.
"Because everybody has something to gain on this, we want to work together to acquire and develop this path," Rudow said.
The long-range plan is to extend the trail from LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve to the eastern edge of St. Charles.
"From the community surveys that we've done, the trails and the addition of trails always ranks very, very high," she said. "The community is well aware of this corridor and the benefits of parks and recreation and walkability and bicycling. They are well aware of the opportunity that's there."