Something for Everyone

Techny Prairie Park & Fields in Northbrook, Ill.

By Emily Tipping

ecent years have seen a building trend of parks that aim to bring community members of all ages and backgrounds to one central location for safe play, healthy activity and recreation options that are both active and passive. As of September 2006, when the Techny Prairie Park and Fields celebrated its grand opening, citizens of Northbrook, Ill., and the surrounding area got such a park.

A recent $7.45 million renovation with additions to this key community park allowed the city of more than 33,000 residents to provide a "one-stop shop," offering a huge range of options for getting involved in recreational activities, from sports fields to a skatepark and an interactive trail that wanders through a restored wetland.

As landscape architecture firm Hitchcock Design Group of Naperville, Ill., summed up, the park provides "a noteworthy example of creating a community facility that provides both recreational and educational opportunities. From building a wigwam, enjoying a quick round of golf, testing a new move at the skatepark to bird-watching in the prairie, Northbrook residents have been given an incredible facility to enjoy and experience."

The 82-acre park, located southeast of Northbrook's downtown area, includes a wide array of recreational opportunities, including sports fields, batting cages, a skatepark, synthetic turf soccer fields, a play environment, a renovated nine-hole golf course, and a multi-use trail that is connected into the regional trail system.

"I don't think I ever envisioned that it would become what it's become," said Ed Harvey, executive director of the Northbrook Park District in a district publication announcing the new park to the community.

Natural beauty

The park is set against the natural, beautiful backdrop of the Chicago River. To ensure consistency within this natural setting, natural materials were chosen for the site furnishings, buildings and other built amenities that adorn the park, including stone and wood. The designers were meticulous in preserving the large, existing trees already on the site, and a great deal of attention was given to the importance of the wetlands that exist on site.

According to the National Wildlife Foundation, wetlands serve several critical environmental functions, including filtering pollutants, providing critical wildlife habitat and mitigating flood damage. In "The Economic Benefits of Open Space," Stephen Miller reports that a single acre of wetland can provide $150,000 to $200,000 in economic benefits.

The design and construction team took careful measures to avoid disturbing the existing wetlands. In addition, portions of the wetland were restored to ensure the habitat continued to thrive.

The pond in the park—which also saw changes as part of the renovation—has a long history. After the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, clay was supplied from this site to manufacture the bricks that helped rebuild the city. As part of the renovation, the pond was expanded and its shoreline was regraded to provide additional storm-water retention. In addition, the pond provides three fishing stations for catch-and-release fishing, as well as irrigation for the park's nine-hole golf course.

The prairie and wetland restoration, as well as additional storage for flood waters provided in the park's design, are beneficial to the West Fork of the North Branch of the Chicago River. The restoration has increased available wildlife habitat and provides an additional vegetative buffer for storm water.

A gathering place

Beyond the park's natural and aesthetic beauty, it provides a place where community members and families can gather to take part in diverse recreational activities.

"Imagine a father and teenage son playing a quick round of golf while the mother and toddler enjoy the play environment adjacent to the field where their daughter is having soccer practice," explained Hitchcock Design Group.

With its multiple sports fields, playground, skatepark, golf course and educational trail, Techny Prairie provides passive and active recreation, with oodles of programming opportunities for both the park district, as well as local community organizations like the local public schools, as well as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

The 22,000-square-foot concrete skatepark includes a half mini pipe, deep bowl, angular bowl, grinding ledges, a fly box and driveway ramps. The 7,600-square-foot playground provides age-appropriate play equipment for kids from 2 to 12 years old and is handicapped-accessible.

The park also offers new sports fields and ball fields to help accommodate the area's booming involvement in youth sports. There are two lighted soccer fields with artificial turf, which also include lines for lacrosse, as well as six batting cages and a new softball field, adjacent to three other ballfields, all of which are lit for evening play.

An educational place

One very unique component of the park is the Trail Through Time, a 16-acre area along the West Fork of the North Branch of the Chicago River. Honored by the Illinois Park and Recreation Association in 2005 with an Outstanding Facility and Parks Award, the trail was intended to provide an outdoor educational and recreational area that preserves the land's natural character while enhancing indigenous plant material and re-establishing the wetland.

Nodes along the trail provide lessons on how land has been used through time by various historical cultures. The modern Formal Garden includes seating areas and trellis structures. A Settlers' Area includes a sod house foundation as well as an herb and kitchen garden. A Native American homestead area includes a wigwam and a firepit. Finally, there is a Council Ring with a firepit.

Educational signage is included along the trail to provide information to visitors and explain the historical significance of each node along the trail. In the wetland area, additional signage explains the ecological diversity of the area. A boardwalk system was designed to traverse the wetland so visitors can get a close-up view of the biological diversity that inhabits the land.

This portion of the park was completed in 2004, and has seen a great deal of use by the community and surrounding area. Local neighbors of the park use the trails to bike, jog and walk year-round, and the trail hooks into the larger regional trail system.

In a newsletter sent to Northbrook residents, Harvey told them, "This is your park now. You can hike, bike, picnic, play or just relax in a dramatic and distinctive setting that combines quiet beauty with the excitement of sports activities." At Techny Park, there truly is something for everyone.

Northbrook Park District:

Hitchcock Design Group:

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