Kid Magnet

By Carol Haggas and Erika Young
Photos: Courtesy Of The St. Charles Park District

A river running through a city is a beautiful sight, and any park district lucky enough to have such a natural treasure would be remiss in not promoting it to its advantage. With the scenic Fox River at its doorstep, the St. Charles Park District in Illinois wanted to highlight its connection to the waterway in creating a new attraction and restoring an iconic destination in the jewel of its downtown park system—historic Pottawatomie Park.

In 2013, the park district and its board of directors determined that a facelift was in order for the courtyard of its River View Miniature Golf Course. With naturally landscaped greens highlighting the 18-hole course, River View is a magical place, not only for enjoying a round of mini golf but also offering a welcome rest station for joggers and bikers who use the park’s riverfront trails. This area also serves as a destination for the tens of thousands of people who visit the park annually. Whether attending one of the park district’s many special events, such as the annual July Fourth fireworks display, a corporate picnic, or a place to pick up children from summer day camp, visitors are drawn to this tranquil riverside haven.

Mini-Golf Makeover
Originally named Oak Valley Miniature Golf and constructed in the mid-1970s, the facilities had not undergone any serious renovation for some 18 years. It was time for an upgrade.

Influenced by the late 19th -century pavilion that is the heart of the park, and inspired by the period limestone amphitheater, walls, and gateways that accent many of the park’s features, the courtyard redesign took on a decidedly European flair. The project not only would seamlessly merge the old with the new, but further complement the Tudor design of the adjacent refreshment stand that would fit in with the surrounding neighborhood, an eclectic mix of Greek Revival, Craftsman, and Federal architecture.

Developed by Upland Design of Plainfield, Ill., the $70,000 project focused on creating a pleasing ambiance without sacrificing functionality. Out went the outdated picnic-table seating. In came new table-and-bench modules made of concrete for permanent, year-round, ADA-accessible seating. Gone were the worn timber corrals for shade trees and flowers. Installed were freshly planted and fully irrigated landscape beds, now contained by low concrete walls in winding, curvilinear shapes that echo the river flowing nearby. Old brick paver walkways were replaced by concrete paving with brick accents. Timbers, asphalt, and hedge walls were removed to enhance the park area and open the space to pedestrian traffic. New lighting and signage added the finishing touches to the project.

Adventure Abounds
River View Miniature Golf was originally named Oak Valley, and for a reason. Nestled in a grove of oak trees just up the hill from the River View courtyard, a new multi-function, multi-level playground was constructed in 2013 to afford youngsters an entirely different riverfront experience. John Wessel, Assistant Superintendent of Planning and Construction, along with Team Reil of Union, Ill., created a magical new world where children can scamper across walls and bridges and climb a towering treehouse to gaze on the riverfront community below them.

Such a location offers visual access to the riverfront while being situated high enough to assuage any safety concerns parents or guardians might have.

It’s also a guaranteed kid magnet. After climbing to the top of a Swiss Robinson-like treehouse for a bird’s-eye view of the riverfront through a cantilevered observation wall, kids can slide down a curving chute to the shaded ground below. Young adventurers can indulge their Indiana Jones fantasies by crossing a simulated rope bridge to the adjacent observation tower, and escape their imaginary captors via twisted ladders or firehouse-style climbing poles. Protected play areas under each of the taller structures open up more opportunities for creative play, from pioneer games in doing business at an old-time general store to creating a cozy woodland cabin. Steps away from the multi-level activity complex, faux-stone walls, bridges, and outcroppings give kids a wealth of surfaces for climbing and jumping.

With a goal of increasing accessibility to the playground for children and guardians of all abilities, a new winding pathway softens the grade change, providing easier access to the playground from other areas of the park. The entire playground area is covered by a mulched safety surface for easy navigation and proper cushioning.

To achieve the proper balance of height, excitement, and accessibility for all of the users and guests, the park district sought input from the Fox Valley Special Recreation Association, a partnering agency that facilitates recreational programming for children and adults with special needs. And working in partnership with the St. Charles Youth Commission and Girl Scout Troop 4849 from nearby Wredling Middle School, the district outfitted the smaller playground with a specialized swing apparatus to accommodate wheelchair-bound users.

Awarded For Effort
Such thoughtful consideration of design, purpose, and environment was definitely noticed and appreciated by the park district’s constituents. In an award ceremony held in February 2014, the park district won a coveted Civic Image Award from the local chamber of commerce for its playground installation and miniature-golf courtyard renovation.

Carol Haggas is a St. Charles-based freelance writer.

Erika Young is the Public Relations & Marketing Manager for the St. Charles Park District in Illinois. Reach her at .