If Jennifer Wolfe had to describe the village’s parks in a word, that word, unfortunately, would be “prison-like.”
Wolfe is the chairwoman of the Forest Park Recreation Board, which oversees the four nameless play areas scattered through the community. The group is interested in revamping those spaces to make them more appealing, Wolfe said, and the first thing that has to change is the fencing.
“They look like they’re ready to keep people out rather than keep people in,” Wolfe said of the chain link fence surrounding each park.
For several months now members of the Recreation Board have been discussing improvements like wrought iron fencing, new landscaping and functional art all in the hopes of bringing in more users, Wolfe said. Ideally, each park would also have its own theme, Wolfe said, to create a greater sense of identity, too.
Part of establishing that identity will include naming the two so-called “tot lots,” the dog park and two other non-descript park areas, Wolfe said.
“We really wanted to come up with something really cool for each one and make them really unique,” Wolfe said.
The parks being discussed by the Recreation Board are separate from the facilities operated by the Park District, located at 7501 Harrison St. The Recreation Board is an advisory group to the village council.
During a presentation to the council in January, Wolfe outlined several of the Recreation Board’s priorities and began testing the waters for a request to increase the budget. Mayor Anthony Calderone said he agreed in principle with the objectives, but said financing will be determined by the village council’s priorities.
Wolfe made no specific budget requests during the council meeting, but promised to come back with tight figures after estimates have been collected.
“The fencing in itself would be quite expensive,” Wolfe said. “We’re looking for quite a bit of money.”
Commissioner Terry Steinbach oversees the Department of Public Property, which includes the parks, and said she fully supports the Recreation Board’s initiatives. Everything from fencing to uniquely designed park benches would go a long way to improve those areas, Steinbach said. The commissioner also said she support’s Wolfe’s interest in making these improvements in-house, without the assistance of an outside consultant.
“They feel they have the talent and they have the desire to do the research,” Steinbach said.
In addition to any physical improvements that can be made, Wolfe and Steinbach said a key to boosting the public’s interest in the parks will be creating a sense of ownership. Neighborhoods that are involved in maintaining their park are more likely to recreate there, Wolfe said.
Calling on residents to help with new designs, plant flowers and remove trash could save money and engage the public, Steinbach said.