The Forest Park Recreation Board is looking to redefine its mission after the Park District of Forest Park took over one of its primary duties — managing four village-owned pocket parks.

During its Sept. 9 meeting, the board voted unanimously to amend its official duties, shifting its focus to helping Forest Park residents and organizations “find opportunities to serve the community.” As part of that, they are considering doing two annual community clean-ups – one in the spring and one in the fall – and setting up a program to help seniors and residents with mobility issues shovel snow during the winter. The changes will still need to be approved by the Village Council, which is expected to consider it sometime in September. 

In November 2020, the village agreed to lease four pocket parks — Reiger Park, 1526 Circle Ave.; Lathrop Park, 1138 Lathrop Ave.; Popelka Park, 501 Thomas Ave., and Remembrance Park, 7341 Randolph St. — to the park district for 99 years for a symbolic lease of $1 a year. As part of the deal, the park district took over the responsibility for maintaining and improving the parks. Veterans Park, 631 Circle Ave., wasn’t included in the deal because its ownership is unclear, and neither was the dog park at 632 Circle Ave.

Under the proposed amendment, the rec board would still serve as a “conduit” between residents and the village about issues affecting village-owned green spaces, parks and other recreational amenities. But the amendment would also shift the language describing the Recreation Board’s duties, putting helping residents and organizations serve the community front and center. It specifies that one of those services could be “influencing the maintenance, safety and improvement of the village-owned green space and recreational public property.” The amendment states that the board will coordinate “a minimum of two volunteer activities a year” in Forest Park.  

Amy Binns-Calvey, the board’s chair, who drafted the amendment, said she hoped to see the board organize more events, but she thought that two events a year “was a good start.”

The board tentatively agreed to do one community clean-up next March and one “around Halloween.”

The amendment also calls for the board to “be available as a resource and a possible coordination center” for Forest Park residents and organizations wishing to organize volunteer projects. Binns-Calvey said the project organizers would develop the ideas and bring them to the board. 

“We would like to change the mission of the Recreation Board to find opportunities to serve the community instead of being stewards to small parks,” she later told the Review. “We want to be a focus point to residents and small organizations to help improve the village. It’s sort of redefining how we use the term ‘recreation.’”

One of their first priorities is  to organize volunteer teams to shovel snow for residents who may have difficulty doing it on their own. Binns-Calvey said that last winter, Forest Park residents organized it via Facebook, and former board chair Jordan Kuehn has proposed making it a more organized effort. She said there are certain organizational issues with making it a village function as opposed to a grassroots effort – they would need to figure out qualifications for volunteers and make sure the volunteers sign liability forms. 

The other board members expressed support for the idea, with board member Brittany Tamul offering to talk to local Boy Scouts to see if they would like to get involved. Commissioner of Public Property Jessica Voogd, who serves as a liaison between the village council and the recreation board, endorsed it as well.

“I think it’s such a great idea,” she said. “We know the need is there.”

Binns-Calvey said that she would ask Kuehn to write up a formal proposal, which the board would consider during the October meeting.