Barrie Park's grand unveiling took place Saturday, but I didn't get there until dusk. The sunset's afterglow painted the cirrus wisps high overhead, which seemed appropriate. It's been a long time since this park and neighborhood had a rosy outlook.
The first and most dramatic impression of the new Barrie Park is openness?#34;Lombard Avenue in particular, which for so long enjoyed the protective canopy of one of Oak Park's surviving elm groves, has lost its cover. A few trees have been replanted on the park side parkway, but not many.
One of the first people I ran into was David Gullo, who served as the park board's pit bull during the often-contentious negotiations with the utilities who, to no one's surprise, were reluctant to put their heart and soul (and coffers) into this remediation project.
Gullo isn't ready to let go yet. He noted that one of the easily overlooked provisions of the agreement is that the utilities are required to replace a certain number of "tree-girth" inches around the park. Gullo figures ComEd and Nicor owe us at least 30 more trees.
Gullo is one of many people who deserves some sort of civic medal for their role in this 7-year saga. Another is Marion Biagi, the next person I saw, who became a fierce advocate for the park neighbors, of whom she is one. Marion proudly led me on a tour of her side and back yards, which were remediated and re-landscaped (and the house foundation reinforced) by the utilities because she wouldn't take no for an answer. She deserves every bit of what she got and then some, but wasn't satisfied because not all of her neighbors had received their due.
Marion and Bill Biagi moved here in 1963, just a few years after Barrie became a park, and raised a large family. They're empty-nesters and thinking of moving sooner than later. I wonder if the family they sell to, or any subsequent owner, will know what a gift they have been bequeathed. Such are the civic heroes who get all too little recognition.
This, however, is a day not for accounting but for celebration. The openness of this village green feels right, feels clean. Kids are rolling happily down the steep sledding hill. A group of older youth are tossing a football around. On the temporary stage, a musician is trying to whip up some late-in-the-day enthusiasm from an obviously mellow crowd. A screen is hung for the showing of the movie Hook, based, of course, on Mr. Barrie's most famous work of fiction.
Parents supervise youngsters in the new tot lot on the southeast corner, where once upon a time, back in the early 1990s, my son faced his first pitched baseball in an organized game. As I recall, he singled.
My memories go back even further, to the mid-1960s when I played flag football with full equipment in a park district league under lights that no longer exist. Bud Corry, the long-time park staffer and later a board member, told me when they were digging the standards for those lights, they often hit coal tar.
In the late 1950s, Oak Park created Barrie Park out of an environmental hell-hole where people once actually melted coal in order to harvest gas. Now the land is clean?#34;clean enough for utility and government work at any rate.
It only took 50 years to complete Barrie Park, and the process probably aged the neighbors an extra 10.
This civic triumph will soon be all but forgotten, and most of the kids who play here will never know what transpired, but the rest of us should never take it for granted. An ecological cesspool was, if not sanitized, then at least neutralized. A God-forsaken parcel of industrial filth has been transformed into a lovely village green.
It took a long time?#34;maybe too long?#34;but looking around, it was worth it.