The River Forest Park District has signed a letter of commitment to work toward switching fully to renewable energy sources — and the Park District of Oak Park is poised to follow suit. 

The letter was prepared by PlanItGreen, the Oak Park River Forest Community Foundation-led initiative that works to make Oak Park and River Forest more environmentally sustainable. It reached out to several organizations in the area, including the two park districts.

As the officials from both park districts emphasized, the letter isn’t binding. But both park district boards felt that it was a goal worth striving toward, so they had no issue with signing on. 

The River Forest Park District Board of Commissioners signed the letter during its Dec. 9 meeting, and the Park District of Oak Park Board of Commissioners signed off during its Dec. 19 meeting. 

The letter builds on the goals outlined in the June 2011 Environmental Sustainability Plan of Oak Park and River Forest, adjusting the goals to fit the latest data from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 

The letter outlines several goals, including identifying opportunities to add solar panels to their facilities, improving energy efficiency in their facilities and operations, switching their energy supply contracts to get all of their electricity from solar and/or wind power and developing programs to educate residents about how they can be more energy-efficient.

In return, the park districts will have a say in PlanItGreen’s “strategies, programs and policies,” as well as opportunities to share “technical assistance, training, and best practice information” and help with getting grants and financial incentives. The initiative will also help the park districts get the word out about the projects that accomplished the letter’s goals.

River Forest Park Board President Ross Roloff noted that, while there have been proposals to put solar panels on the River Forest Depot building, which serves as both a park district facility and the station house for the village Metra station, that may not be feasible. 

Because of the angle the solar panels would need to be at, they would only be able to put it on the platform side, which is closer to the tracks, which would mean “higher rates of vandalism.”

The Park District of Oak Park already has solar panels at Ridgeland Common Recreation Complex, Longfellow Center, Fox Center and Oak Park Conservatory. It has also installed bioswales and rain gardens at the conservatory and Austin Gardens Environmental Education Center which not only reduce flooding, but allow the park district to reuse some of the rain water. 

Arnold said the park district is working with its Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee to figure out what else it can do to be more sustainable. One of the major priorities, she said, was looking for opportunities to add solar panels to more facilities and using wind power.

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Igor Studenkov

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Growing Community Media newspapers in 2012, then from 2015...