By Brad Spencer
A flurry of local sledding enthusiasts and dog owners have expressed opposition to the long-planned renovation that will soon begin at Ridgeland Common, but the Park District of Oak Park says alternatives to these popular features are or will remain available in the village.
The sled hill, created in 1962 on the south train embankment of the field, will close permanently on March 18 as a wide variety of construction begins, including the installation of synthetic turf to the fields. The decision to lose the hill was based on the board's ability to secure turf, which is similar to the material that was installed on OPRF High School's Oak Park Stadium and Lake Street fields, according to Diane Stanke, manager of communications for the park district.
On Friday, a group of residents calling themselves Residents for Sanity in Oak Park's Parks, met with Jan Arnold, executive director of the park district, to urge officials to reconsider certain aspects of the renovation, including the removal of the hill and the installation of synthetic turf.
"We made it clear that even though contracts have been signed we wanted to share the sentiments of the community," said Rich Kullman, a member of the group. "A vast majority of the community doesn't know the hill is coming down or was even made aware that it was a possibility. It wasn't a very democratic way of doing things."
The group also recently sent a letter to the Park District of Oak Park's Green Advisory Committee and members of the village board.
"The basis for bulldozing the hill are to minimize rain runoff onto the artificial turf and to allow large playing fields. Why not simply dig a drainage ditch or place drainage gratings?" reads a portion of the letter that was also sent to Wednesday Journal. "Why again are organized sports allowed to dictate the policy of the park board and reduce the enjoyment of the rest of the residents?"
An extensive public planning process for the overhaul of Ridgeland Common was conducted as part of the park district's multi-year master planning process which has gradually led to the upgrading of parks across the village.
Stanke pointed out two other hills in Oak Park that are frequently used for sledding, one the park district specifically created at Barrie Park, and one at Taylor Park. "We understand that there is an emotional factor involving the history of the sled hill at Ridgeland, but there are other hills at parks in Oak Park, such as Barrie and Taylor parks people can use," she said.
In a letter published in Wednesday Journal on Feb. 27, Arnold emphasized the benefit to synthetic turf being installed at Ridgeland.
"Installing synthetic turf lengthens the sports seasons and increases the use of the fields by teams and individuals in a variety of weather conditions …" She also made mention of the sodding improvements to Barrie Park's sled hill.
The synthetic turf will also displace the park district's popular Dog Park Plus service at Ridgeland Common, where dog owners have been allowed to let man's best friend run free for two hours two days a week — Saturday and Sunday mornings. That service will discontinue Aug. 4, but the park district encourages members of the community to weigh-in on an alternative location at a meeting scheduled for March 6 at Stevenson Center, 49 Lake St., at 7:30 p.m.
"The Dog Park Plus service is unique," said Stanke. "Not only is it for dogs to run around and play, but it's an opportunity for people to socialize and the park district understands that and wants to keep it going."
Stanke added that a new location being considered is a possible dog run at Stevenson Park. "That's the point of the meeting, to get feedback from residents and gain insight into what would be the best option."
The Ridgeland Common Dog Park will close on March 18 and re-open at the completion of Ridgeland's construction in 2014. As an alternative, residents can use Maple Park's Dog Park, located in the northwest corner of the park and open from sunrise to sunset.