Caring for the Environment
In the management of the park system, the Park District of Oak Park strives to set a high standard of leadership and competency in the promotion of sound conservation practices and lifestyles. In the years 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2021 the Park District was recognized with the Illinois Association of Park District's Best of the Best Award for Green Practices. Below are some of the examples of recent green initiatives enacted by the Park District. A special insert regarding sustainability practices was included in the Village of Oak Park's FYI in January 2018.
Carroll Energy Dashboard
Alternative Weed Control Study
Solar Panels at RCRC, Longfellow & Fox Centers, Conservatory
Bioswales and Rain Gardens
Recycling at the Park District
Tree Maintenance and Inventory
Heritage Oak Propagation Program
Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee and Green Team
Carry In/Carry Out
Lindberg Park Trial Garden Native Plants Restoration
Additional Green Efforts
Alternative Weed Control Study
During 2015, the Park District of Oak Park Greening Advisory Committee made recommendations to the Park District of Oak Park on alternative weed control products to consider in place of glyphosate. Upon the recommendations, the Park District embarked on a trial study of Avenger AG Weed Control on two test sites, Field Park Native Gardens and a District 97 ball field fence line. Avenger AG weed control was applied to fence lines at District 97 school ball field. Avenger Weed control and Glyphosate were applied in test plot sections to Field Park Native Garden. Here are the results of this study.
In alignment with the Park District’s comprehensive plan and core values, we entered into an agreement with Realgy, LLC of West Hartford, Connecticut to install a solar field on the south roof of Ridgeland Common Recreation Complex (RCRC). The solar panels, installed in fall 2016, are helping the District save approximately $25,000 annually through energy service and delivery costs to RCRC. In addition, this agreement allows the Park District to reduce our carbon footprint. Additional solar panels were added to the RCRC roof at the end of 2018 through our partnership with Realgy increasing our savings to $60,000 annually.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) partnered with the Park District on the installation cost of 20 solar panels on Longfellow Center. In addition, the NRDC gifted the panels to the District which were installed December 2016. These panels provide a substantial amount of the power needed for Longfellow Center allowing the Park District to recover all costs from the purchase and installation of the system in less than 6 years through energy savings. In December 2017, the Park District purchased an additional 10 solar panels for the roof at Longfellow Center which were installed the first quarter of 2018.
In fall 2018, 30 solar panels were installed on the Fox Center roof as part of the Park District's mission to be a leader in sustainability.
A 22kW solar field was installed on the roof of the Oak Park Conservatory at the end of 2018. This project was funded through the Green Mountain Energy Citizen Sustainability Pledge Program.
Solar fields were also added to the roofs of the Hedges Administrative Center, Fox Center and Barrie Center for a total of 8 Park District faciities currently benefitting from the use of solar power.
Prescribed burns are conducted on an annual basis at Taylor, Field and Lindberg Parks and Austin Gardens for the purpose of improving the health of the plantings. Necessary weather conditions to proceed with the Prescribed Burns include:
Days Leading up to the Burn
Lead Time: 1-3 days dry sunny weather before burn. This is to dry out the dead vegetation. Without sufficient drying time, the vegetation won't burn even if the weather conditions on a particular day are perfect.
Day of the Burn:
Wind Direction: West – ideal, NW or SW is acceptable
Wind Speed: 3 – 20 mph
Low Relative Humidity
Atmospheric Conditions: clear skies, stable forecast
Learn more info in the prescribed burn presentation.
For more information about this project, e-mail Patti Staley or call (708) 725-2451.
A bioswale, installed at the Oak Park Conservatory in May 2015, has been hard at work collecting and filtering run off water from the street. Native Illinois plant species are thriving in this environment which was partially funded by a grant from Com Ed and Openlands. A bioswale was also installed at Stevenson Park as part of the 2019 renovation project.
Rain gardens were installed at the Austin Gardens Environmental Education Center, Carroll Park and at Euclid Square Park. Similar to a bioswale, a rain garden is planted with deep-rooted native wildflowers, grasses and shrubs that filters stormwater runoff by removing nutrients, sediments and pollutants before it enters our groundwater and waterways.
The Park District of Oak Park was awarded Platinum LEED certification for the Austin Gardens Environmental Education Center and received Gold LEED certification for the Ridgeland Common Recreation Complex. The Ridgeland Common Recreation Complex was completely renovated in 2014 with Silver LEED specifications by incorporating multiple sustainable concepts into the design and construction of the new site and building. Gold certification was achieved after a photo voltaic system was installed on the RCRC roof in early 2017. Read more about LEED certification at RCRC. Construction on the Austin Gardens Environmental Education Center was completed in June 2016. Read more about the sustainable features at the Austin Gardens Environmental Education Center.
Decades of commitment to nurturing, diversifying and protecting its urban forest has earned Oak Park recognition as Illinois’ first – and the nation’s fourth – municipal arboretum.
The Village and Park District of Oak Park, together, share responsibility for the more than 21,000 trees on public property throughout the Village’s four and a half square miles. Read more about becoming an arboretum.
The Park District is committed to environmentally-friendly and sustainable practices. Reducing the amount of materials that go into landfills generated by facility operations is a particular focus for the Park District. The single-stream recycling program eliminates the need to separate recyclables. Empty plastic and glass bottles, cardboard, clean paper, and empty aluminum cans can all be placed in the same recycling receptacle.
The Park District of Oak Park is committed to the highest possible level of management for all natural resources represented in our parks. The Park District maintains a tree inventory identifying the age, condition and location of all trees throughout the parks system using GIS software. Read more about the maintenance of our trees.
View the interactive tree inventory
Tree Inventory Fact Sheet
Tree Removal Fact Sheet
Inoculating trees is the most effective tool for combating Dutch Elm disease, which is decimating our Elm tree population. The Park District is investing in our Heritage Elms by inoculating 24 mature, healthy, American Elms per the recommended treatment cycle. The decision was made to treat these trees to try and preserve these living treasures throughout the park system.
The Park District partnered with the West Suburban Openlands Treekeepers and the Morton Arboretum to save hundreds of 200- to 300- year old oak trees as part of the Heritage Oak Propagation Program. Grown from acorns back in 2008, a total of 51 of these living treasures were planted in 2015 in Scoville, Mills, Taylor and Field Parks. The nurturing and planting of these trees enhances biodiversity and is part of the District’s broader strategy to use natives whenever possible to best support our environment.
In response to ever rising water costs, a desire to conserve water and the recognition of the energy consumed pumping and treating water from Lake Michigan, the Park District has evaluated and selected a number of sites for the installation of “Cisterns”. These water reservoirs, located at Longfellow and Field Parks and at the Oak Park Conservatory and the Austin Gardens Environmental Education Center allow the District to capture water from splash pads and water features to use for irrigation. The cistern at the AGEEC is used for flushing the facility's restroom toilets.
The Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee acts as a liaison between the Park District and the community, helping implement the Park District’s Environmental Policy, assisting the Park Board in identifying and exploring sustainability issues and environmental initiatives, helping determine annual projects, and maintaining the Green Team, the Park District’s park stewardship program. For more information on the ESAC, visit our Citizens Committee page.
Join the Green Team
Join the Park District of Oak Park to help with the greening of our parks. We're looking for community volunteers who would like to help care for a local park under the guidance of a park steward. Duties may include planting, plant care, tree monitoring, educational activities, special events or general maintenance. Interested Steward candidates should have a working knowledge of or interest in horticultural practices which might include gardening, prairie restoration and perennial plant and tree care. Visit our Volunteer Opportunities page to learn how to get involved.
The Park District’s Greening Advisory Committee initiated a Carry In/Carry Out program with the Oak Park Youth Baseball/Softball Association and the Oak Park American Youth Soccer Organization to reduce trash, keep our parks cleaner, and increase environmental awareness and stewardship. This program has now been expanded to all park patrons. We simply ask our park users to take out whatever trash they bring into the park. Please do your part to keep our parks clean.
The diverse species mix originally planted at Lindberg Park in 2000 was lost due to the invasion of aggressive plant species such as Canada thistle, tall goldenrod and New England aster. The Park District's Greening Advisory Committee worked with the Park District to oversee plans to restore the plantings in the Trial Gardens to recreate the desired plant diversity. The first phase of plantings were completed in June 2012. Successive phasing continues yearly as well as specialized, ongoing maintenance of this unique area. For more information about the Lindberg Park Trial Gardens, e-mail Chris Lindgren or call (708) 725-2050.
Read more about the natural areas in Oak Park.
A 2400' sq. ft. addition was completed to Carroll Center in 2019 featuring a Passive House Design. This project was partially funded through a grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation to achieve Passive House Certification and Source Zero Energy Certification.
Longfellow Park received environmental certification from the Sports Turf Management Association in 2017 and earned recertification in 2020.
The Park District purchased several pieces of battery-powered park maintainence equipment.
Members of the Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee oversee composting and recylicng efforts at the summer concert series.
The Park District implemented an online job application system to eliminate paper applications.
The Park District purchased two alternative fuel vehicles.
Bio-diverse areas in the parks were included during the development of park site plans.
The Park District, along with the Park District's volunteer citizen Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee, support the PlanItGreen Environmental Sustainability Plan for Oak Park and River Forest.
The Park Board adopted a revised procurement policy which addresses the purchase of environmentally preferable products and services.
Three Park District employees passed the exam to become Certified Arborists.
At the 2015 Frank Lloyd Wright Races, the Park District had a 90% diversion rate for all waste. This is the largest Park District special event enjoyed by over 3,000 runners, walkers, volunteers and spectators.
Canvas tote bags, made of recycled materials, were distributed to all Park District staff to encourage the use of reusable bags when shopping.