By Marty Farmer
Several hundred people convened at Austin Gardens on Saturday to celebrate the announcement of several new amenities slated to debut at the park in 2015.
The Park District of Oak Park was recently notified by the Office of Gov. Pat Quinn and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources that Oak Park will receive a $400,000 matching grant from the Open Space Land Acquisition and Development Grant (OSLAD) program.
With the funds allocated by OSLAD, the park district is planning to add a 2,100-square-foot, multi-use Environmental Learning Center at Austin Gardens. The center will be host to children's nature day camps, environmental education programs for adults and children, and other community events.
The facility will include state-of-the-art energy and environmental conservation features, including a high-efficiency HVAC system, ample use of natural light and a green roof which will run off to a rain garden.
Another addition made possible by the grant will be the development of a "discovery garden" with birding scopes, nature imprints and native plantings. A social gathering area with tables for group picnics is also in the works.
At the north end of the park, habitat enhancements will be made to the wildflower area, along with the installation of interpretive signage and path system improvements.
Before making stops in Decatur and Peoria, Quinn attended Saturday's announcement along with U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, Oak Park Village President Anan Abu-Taleb, Park District board President Jessica Bullock and Park District Executive Director Jan Arnold.
"The state of Illinois believes in leaving no child inside," Quinn said in his opening remarks. "Our mission is to make sure our kids are in nature, and that we're investing in the 21st century for not only our children but everybody.
"Through the OSLAD program, it's important to understand all of us support people getting out and enjoying nature in the state of Illinois. Our allocations for helping our parks across the state will benefit 45 different park districts and entities involved with land acquisitions."
Representatives from approximately 27 park districts and forest preserve districts throughout the Chicago area also joined the celebration at Austin Gardens.
"This is a wonderful day for Oak Park," Arnold said. "Austin Gardens is a treasure. To be able to put in a learning center and add a water garden with a green roof along with several other new features and enhancements just offers more amenities to an already beautiful park.
"The complete renovation is still a few years down the road, but I'm sure people will be eager to experience the wonderful additions and improvements to Austin Gardens."