Sometimes it’s easy to overlook the great things that surround us. One of those things is the Park District. Parks can be very positive forces to a community’s economic and environmental health and social welfare. I believe the Park District of Oak Park (PDOP) supports our community in those ways. 

It’s easy to take our parks for granted in a community like Oak Park that offers so much. I am part of the Greening Advisory Committee for the park district which has given me a little more insight into the activities of PDOP.

It is unique in all of the special facilities and functions it provides: the Oak Park Conservatory; the Gymnastics and Recreation Center; the indoor, year-round ice rink; Pleasant Home in Mills Park; Cheney Mansion; Scoville Park as our community gathering place; Austin Gardens with the Environmental Learning Center; the Taylor wetlands and the Lindbergh native gardens; good community parks; an incredible program of activities and sports; a great environmental commitment; superior park maintenance; and astute financial stewardship. 

When you put all of these resources into a small land-locked community, it’s truly an amazing feat to provide all the playing fields for sports that our park district provides to our youth. I think it’s fair to say that the parks and facilities have never looked better than they do now. PDOP has done this job so well that it is recognized as one of the premier park districts for its size in the country, with the awards to prove it. 

The environmental commitment of the district is truly amazing. Within the past few years, there is splash pad water recycling for irrigation at Longfellow and Field parks. Solar power has been installed at Ridgeland Common, Longfellow Park, Fox Park, and the Austin ELC, and is being added as much as possible as grants and cooperative agreements are obtained. 

The taxpayer costs have been minimal for these projects. This could be a model for other government institutions. PDOP is working to recycle, compost, and reduce as much as possible; they work to promote “Carry In, Carry Out” programs and zero waste concerts; conversion of outdoor lights to LED lighting; near-elimination of pesticide usage; green buildings with the Environmental Learning Center and the Gymnastics Center; motion sensor lights; bioswales to reduce run-off; with plans for much more as resources allow. 

The amazing thing is that PDOP has done much of this environmental upgrading at minimal expense to the taxpayers. Due to legitimate concerns about property taxes, this cannot be emphasized too much. Investments in green technologies and principles have resulted in taxpayer savings much more rapidly. Example: conversion to LED lights was 50 percent supplemented by grants. Result: the park district’s investment paid off within a year, and the estimated savings thereafter: $13,000/year. Isn’t this the kind of governmental administration we are seeking? 

I truly hope the Oak Park community understands and appreciates the commitment the Park District of Oak Park has to its residents, their pocketbooks, and our environment.

Terry Grace is an Oak Park resident and member of the park district’s Greening Advisory Committee.

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