Another robust summer in the Fox Valley Park District hands the baton to fall, leaving for us a highlight reel of warm-weather memories. We’ll remember the Summer of ‘23 as the year the annual Mid-American Canoe & Kayak Race became part obstacle course/part endurance test thanks to a trickling Fox River in early June; outdoor concertgoers flocked in record numbers to Live & Uncorked at Blackberry Farm; and summer campers settled into the community’s newest education and events venue, The Wilds at Red Oak, to name just a few.
As fall arrives, we welcome the slower pace and more structured schedules, though the fun and adventure remain. It’s time for two of our community’s most prized resources to reunite: children and education. Once again, the Fox Valley Park District will provide before and after school programs to enhance your child’s enrichment, not only academically but recreationally through engaging programming. Along with our BACC Pack program at Vaughan Athletic Center, the Park District currently oversees five 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant sites in West Aurora School District 129, where we’ll support 350 students and their families this year through activities that include STEM education provided by Red Oak Nature Center staff, Performing Arts, MVP Sports, and Fox Fitness.
Special thanks to Cities in Schools Aurora, our program manager for the 21st Century Grant and conduit for us to provide enrichment programs and activities (from kicking a soccer ball to exploring the arts) for children who attend 21st Century Grant Sites. Additionally, the Fox Valley Park District is sponsoring CIS Aurora this year to provide school supplies at East Aurora School District 131 (2nd Annual Back to School Fair on Aug. 12), West Aurora (Back to the Books on Aug. 6), and Indian Prairie School District 204.
Through all of our education-based programming – made possible by the work and care of dedicated staff and a collaborative approach through community partnerships – thank you for trusting us to provide recreational enrichment opportunities for your children. Enjoy our facilities and we’ll continue to advocate for all students’ success in the six school districts the Fox Valley Park District represents.
Fall in the FVPD simply wouldn’t be the same without Blackberry Farm getting spiced with Pumpkin Weekends. When you catch Blackberry in peak colors against a turquoise sky on one of those cool October afternoons, every cell phone snap becomes an instant postcard. Pumpkin Weekends run Saturdays and Sundays throughout October, along with Columbus Day on Oct. 9, with special activity days such as a Balloon Artist, Pumpkin Carver and World’s Tallest Scarecrow sprinkled throughout the month. Get more info online before tickets become available to purchase online at 9 a.m. on September 1!
I mentioned The Wilds at Red Oak, our new three-season facility along the Fox River Trail on the north end of the Red Oak property in North Aurora. It’s a stunning space tucked in the woods that allows us to expand nature-based programming for preschoolers, campers and scout groups, and also serves as a rentable venue for weddings, reunions, corporate events, and other celebrations.
The Wilds will be the centerpiece (and start/finish line!) of our inaugural Big Foot Trail Run 5K (more info here) on September 30. Sign up, spread the word to your 5K fans or join us as a spectator on race day to cheer on the runners and check out The Wilds at Red Oak.
Hope to see you out and about this fall!
Fox Valley Park District Executive Director
I grew up in Aurora on Prairie Street, a couple of decades before Orchard Road ever appeared on a blueprint. The nearby Gilman Trail was surfaced with crushed limestone, a formidable opponent to knees and elbows during bike spills. The “nature trail,” as we called the Gilman as kids, served as a trusty thoroughfare dotted with hotspots such as S.A. Field, Copley Park, the suspension bridge that spans Blackberry Creek, and the Palmer Park pavilion, to name a few.
I recall with 4K clarity one summer morning after my third-grade school year when I hopped on my 2-speed black Schwinn (the kind where you kicked the pedals to shift gears) and rode west over the suspension bridge and into the construction site of Pioneer Park (now Blackberry Farm), which opened in 1969. The silly-looking basket in front of my handlebars accommodated the overhead of my paper route, but it also doubled as the perfect spot to stow fishing tackle. I wove through the construction equipment that steamy morning and tossed a line into Lake Gregory where a passing bluegill gobbled my bait. I couldn’t fill a bucket or pedal fast enough home to show off my trophy – my first-ever catch! – to anyone in my path. Turned out the only person around was Mrs. Whalen in the farmhouse across the street. She cleaned and prepared my one-fish haul … and politely introduced me to the term “creel limit.”
Like so many others, I was hooked on fishing immediately. Love at first bite. Fishing is recreation and be it hobby, passion, or just something to save for a sunny day, it’s a lifetime adventure that allows us to commune with nature, build relationships, and recharge mentally as we tap the brakes on life’s pace.
The Fox Valley Park District manages more than two dozen lakes and ponds. We strive to deliver a selection of quality fisheries, whether they’re found off beaten paths or in extensions of backyards. In 2016 we installed an arboriculture and lake management division within our Operations department to ensure the protection and preservation of aquatic life and the natural habitat that surrounds. Our team frequently collaborates with community organizations and service groups to assist in maintaining quality fishing within a healthy ecosystem.
If you’ve been to Jericho Lake recently – and I encourage you to visit, if only to take a leisurely lap around the lake – perhaps you’ve noticed the white piping stuck in the ground near popular fishing nodes and inlets. Or maybe you’ve seen them at Spring, Waubonsie, Golden Oaks or any of the 17 District lakes where they also stand. Designed and built in his family’s garage by a local Eagle Scout, these Fishing Line Recycling Stations were planted with a purpose. They’re dedicated receptacles to deposit snarled nests of monofilament, another measure to protect the abundance of wildlife that calls our shorelines home. These types of worthwhile projects commonly sprout to life behind the scenes, but they so accurately define the spirit of our mission. Dozens of these stations throughout District fisheries represent a 100% locally-sourced initiative to encourage good stewardship as it relates to water quality and healthy habitat, along with all the other ecological and environmental benefits that result from the ability – and responsibility – we have to recycle.
Along with lakes and ponds, we’re responsible and accountable for the management of Fox River and Blackberry Creek shoreline areas along our trail system or adjacent to District facilities. An exciting addition is in the works at Cool Acres Park (Route 25, south of Sullivan Rd.), where it’s our desire to add a canoe/kayak launch and provide another access point to the amazing recreational resource that flows through the heart of the District community. We held a public meeting in April and have begun the application process through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ Boat Access Area Development Grant Program. Construction would likely take place next fall to maximize efficiency during lower water levels.
Lastly, in the spirit of gathering in the great outdoors, I want to invite you and your friends and family to Jericho Lake on Saturday, May 20, when our Operations team is hosting a free community Fishing Derby. Open to all and geared toward our next generation of anglers, the derby runs from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
We’ll have poles and tackle available for those without their own gear, and a grilled lunch will be provided for the kids. Sounds like a great day to reel in some memories.
Have a safe, sunny summer, and I hope to see you on the shoreline!
Fox Valley Park District Executive Director