It all started in 1966, when the first Board of Park Commissioners passed a referendum to create the Naperville Park District and came up with a master plan to acquire space to keep their vision alive.
“Residents here had already enjoyed open spaces, not only in the farms, but also in the parks already in existence, so being able to manage growth with open space and recreational opportunities became the fundamental focus of the Park Board over the years,” said Mary Lou Wehrli, Naperville Park District Commissioner from 1999-2005.
Starting with only 31 programs and 3,000 participants, the Park District had small beginnings, but quickly grew. A big part of that was the adoption of Centennial Beach in 1969.
“That area up there was called the beach bum hill, we were up there when we didn’t have any responsibilities and then we would visit and keep track of each other and we played cards and we still do to this day,” said Marge Walsh, Centennial Beach Life Guard from 1942-1945.
Adding to the expansion, developers who came to town in 1972 were required by the Park District to donate land or money for future park sites. That opened up space for the Springbrook Golf Course in 1974 and Knoch Knolls Park in 1980. But perhaps the most recognized addition of the Park District came in 1981- Naperville’s crown jewel, the Riverwalk.
“The Riverwalk became a very major focal point for everybody in the city of Naperville, so the Park District was very pleased to be an integral part of that over the years and continues to be do this day,” said Glen Ekey, Naperville Park District Executive Director from 1981-1996.
The Park District then set their sights south, building Frontier Sports Complex in 2001 and acquiring more land to fill the needs of their now 1,400 programs.
“The Southwest Community Park area, that’s an area we don’t have immediate plans for right now, but we felt it was important to acquire that land and have that land so that when the demand develops we will be able to respond,” said Mike Reilly, President of the Park Board of Commissioners.
Looking ahead, the Park District will open their new Fort Hill Activity Center, which will offer over 80,000 feet of indoor program space. They’ll also re-construct their Central Maintenance Facility. All this in an effort to fulfill the main goals of the Park District.
“I want to leave this place in a better position than it was when I got here, so whenever he or she takes over as the next Executive Director and on and on, I want them to look back and say they had some forward thinking, just as the people 50 years ago did,” said Ray McGury, Executive Director of the Naperville Park District.
Naperville News 17’s Alyssa Bochenek Reports.
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