Changes are coming to Northfield’s largest park, but what and how many may be up to park district residents.
Northfield park officials are collecting feedback on an improvement plan for Willow Park, 401 Willow Road, through Aug. 28, when recommendations will be presented to the Park Board of Commissioners.
Many residents came out to the park on Monday, Aug. 7, for an open house, where a preliminary plan was on display and plan designers were on hand to discuss it.
“Feedback is important. We want it,” said Bill Byron, the district’s executive director. “People’s reactions when they see the plan can and should be passionate. We can and do want to hear them.”
Sports fields were added to the south end of Willow Park in 2008, and six pickleball courts were installed in recent years.
The current action plan for Willow Park focuses on the north and northwest segments of the park, where a fenced dog park, skate park, disc golf course (9 holes), new walking trail, new parking lot and park entrances, and additional picnic shelters are among the suggestions.
Byron said the concepts were informed by the park district’s comprehensive plan, which was updated in 2022. From the comprehensive plan, a consultant narrowed resident feedback — gathered from surveys and other community outreach — into a list of priorities, he said. Park district staff took the priorities and developed a master plan and the preliminary action plan for Willow Park.
Both the skate park and disc golf course are proposed based on resident requests for more activities for teens.
The most polarizing piece of the plan is the proposed 1.5-acre fenced dog park. Currently, Willow Park features an open, off-leash dog area in the northwest corner of the park, and some residents want to keep it that way.
Monique Greisch, who is a neighbor of the park, came to the Aug. 7 open house to review the plan. She said she visits the park “all the time” with her family and dog, and they enjoy the open space.
“I’m not interested in a dog park with a big fence,” she said. “We only have so much space here. It doesn’t seem necessary.”
That said, Greisch is interested in bettering the park. She would like to see more natural elements, such as native plantings, wildlife spaces and permeable walking paths.
Greisch and other open house guests filled out comment cards to help guide the park district’s Willow Park recommendations. Byron said he and district staff will use feedback to build a presentation that they hope to present to the Park Board on Aug. 28.
That date is important, Byron said, because the Willow Park improvements hinge on an Illinois Department of Natural Resources grant — the Open Space Land Acquisition and Development Grant, commonly called an OSLAD grant — for which the district must apply by Aug. 31. Grant winners are expected to be announced in the spring of 2024.
The OSLAD grant would provide up to $600,000 in matching funds. The project’s all-in budget is $1.6 million; however, Byron said that number will come down once the improvements are finalized.
At the open house, park district partner Eric Hornig, of Hitchcock Design Group, said that if all goes as planned, final designs for Willow Park improvements may be presented next spring with any construction potentially beginning in 2025.
To provide feedback on the Willow Park preliminary plan, residents can call (847) 446-6784 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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