By Bob Uphues
The Cook County Forest Preserve District last week unveiled its Recreation Master Plan, which proposes the construction of an off-leash dog area, expanded picnic groves and other amenities at Miller Meadow, which is located just north of Cermak Road at First Avenue.
Miller Meadow is one of eight priority sites identified by the master plan, meaning that the improvements recommended by planners are funded and must be complete by June 2015.
"The broad plan will be further refined during the next phase of development through a team of architects and engineers," said forest preserve district spokesman Don Parker.
According to Parker, the hiring of an architect for the improvements is "imminent" and a final plan will be developed by mid-summer.
"Once they're finished with the program phase, there will be a more detailed plan in June or July," said Parker.
In February 2012, the forest preserve district had identified an area on the south end of Miller Meadow as a possibility. First, however, the district wanted a show of commitment from area residents.
The chairwoman of Riverside's Parks and Recreation Commission, Susan Casey, put out the call for volunteers to form the Miller Meadow Dog Park Group, which came together in May.
While the group provided input, Casey said there's been little information about the project recently. Initially, the group believed it might have to go as far as raising money to help fund the construction of the park.
"We'll do whatever we need to do to make it possible," Casey said. "It's been hard to drum up a lot of excitement because we've been in a holding pattern. I know people are really interested."
But now it appears that the dog park at Miller Meadow will become a reality without additional financial support. According to Parker, the Miller Meadow improvements are being funded by using part of a $4.25 million debt issuance completed by the forest preserve district in 2012.
"The proposed improvements at Miller Meadow are funded through the general obligation funds," said Parker, who added that stakeholders like the Miller Meadow Dog Park Group will be contacted "in the next few months" to reconnect and provide additional input on the improvements.
The master plan itself describes Miller Meadow as offering "potential opportunity to add an 18-hole disc gold course, off-leash dog area, and expanded picnic grove, all in an area that was previously disturbed, yet retains a natural character."
The eastern edge of Miller Meadow during the 1980s and 1990s was a construction site related to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District's Deep Tunnel project.
Of the off-leash dog area specifically, the plan says it "could take advantage of the presence of water to enhance the appeal to dogs and their owners although in the final design it would be recommended to divide the off-leash facility into 'wet' and 'dry' paddocks and give dog owners the choice of allowing their dog to have access to the water or not."