Photo by Joe Boyle
Hickory Hills residents Gus Papadrosos and his daughter, Maria, utilize the new outdoor exercise equipment May 6 at Kasey Meadow Park.
Despite delays as a result of unseasonably cool temperatures and wet conditions, an upgrade in playground equipment and other amenities are evident for residents who visit the Kasey Meadow Park in Hickory Hills.
“Because the weather has been so cold and with all the rain we have had, there have been some delays in completing the projects,” said Jennifer Fullerton, executive director of the Hickory Hills Park District. “But as of Monday, we are putting in asphalt for our walking paths and working on getting the stones along the wall fixed up. With all the rain we have had, we have to work on the stones about three times.”
Fullerton is referring specifically to the improvements scheduled for the Kasey Meadow Park District, 8047 W. 91st Place. Many improvements have already taken place, including repairs to the splash pad that will be open this summer. Repairs to some fencing have also taken place at the park.
She believes better days are ahead. The Hickory Hills Park District will host a carnival at Kasey Meadow Park, beginning today (Thursday, May 11) and continuing through Sunday, May 13. Rides and activities for children and families will be available. More information can be obtained by calling Kasey Meadow Park, (708) 598-1233.
“We are pretty excited about the carnival,” said Fullerton. “They are beginning to set everything up. I think we had one about 30 years ago. We are excited to see the response of the community. This is something we would like to do every year.”
A new outdoor fitness center has been added to Kasey Meadow Park this spring. The Fitness Zone is located at the northwestern corner of the park near the baseball fields. Residents have been utilizing the assortment of machinery that works on cardio development. Visitors to the park will eventually have the opportunity to walk and jog along the completed paths and stop for a some exercise on the new machines.
Gus Papadrosos, a 35-year resident of Hickory Hills, did just that on Saturday at the park. He was accompanied by his daughter, Maria. The two spent the afternoon working out on a series of equipment available.
“It just opened this spring,” he said. “I think it is very good and we get in some exercise.”
Fullerton is hopeful that the rain will hold off and that it will allow the asphalt to dry for the walking paths. That is especially true for the stones that have been inserted along the walking path. The recent downpours have prevented the stones from solidifying.
But she remains optimistic and reminds everyone that they have overcome more difficult odds in the past.
“We had about five weeks of vandalism to equipment at the park that needed to be cleaned,” Fullerton said. “We had to go over a lot of it and that caused a delay. But we got through it.”
The Hickory Hills Park District was also caught in middle of the budget stalemate in Springfield that is nearing two years. Gov. Bruce Rauner had frozen grant money for park district projects beginning in January 2015. Park district officials across the state lobbied Springfield by writing, calling and visiting with elected officials to pressure them to reverse the governor’s decision.
Fullerton was one of those park district officials who wrote letters to the governor. Up to $26 million in grant funding was made available for 75 projects across the state when the governor signed that bill. The money is part of the state’s Open Space Land and Acquisition and Development (OSLAD) program.
When the governor originally froze the grant funding, it prevented construction of playground equipment in March 2015. The Hickory Hills Park District playground and splash pad equipment that was supposed to be sent on three semi-trucks for construction of the Kasey Meadow Park OSLAD project had to be sent elsewhere. Before the governor signed the bill to reverse the decision, the equipment had to be stored on a farm in Central Illinois but was still in the elements and often facing inclement weather.
When the funding restrictions were lifted, the Hickory Hills Park District received $390,000 from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for the overall $908,000 project.
“Without the funding it would have been really challenging,” Fullerton said. “We would have had to take out the money from our recreation department fund.”
Fullerton said that the Hickory Hills Park District was awarded a grant for a small joint project with the city about 15 years ago. But this is the first grant that was exclusively awarded from the state for the Hickory Hills Park District.
She was excited about the progress that began last fall and into November due to mild temperatures.
Fullerton also mentioned that additional seeding has to take place for plants and grass at the park.
“I think in about five weeks, it will look much better,” Fullerton said. “The paths and the stones have been our biggest hurdle. We are over 80 percent done. It will take time, but we will get there.”