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Peoria Park District prepares for packed summer of projects, pools and Park-A-Palooza

Peoria Park District Executive Director Emily Cahill
Joe Deacon
Peoria Park District Executive Director Emily Cahill

The Peoria Park District is facing a very busy summer just around the corner, with updates to parks made possible by a diverse set of funding sources, major community events and the future of park district water features.

First though, the park district has a sufficient lifeguard staff and is prepared to open pools.

“Given the temperatures today [Tues, Apr. 12], we'll be interested to see what summer looks like,” said Peoria Park District Executive Director Emily Cahill. “We've just kind of gone straight to it. So we are working towards a very early June opening of our outdoor pools. It's something that we look forward to every year. And we are excited to get that going.”

While Cahill is excited to get the pools open for the season, she says the future of aquatic features in Peoria parks may lay with splash pads. Splash pads are water-based playgrounds, likethe one currently in design phases for Lakeview Park.

Cahill says there’s a number of benefits to splash pads: they don’t need to be constantly staffed, use less water and can stay open for a longer season than a traditional pool.

“There's lots of people like: ‘I don't want to get in the water’ when the water is cold or whatever it might be, a splash pad is different,” Cahill said. “So we are able to keep our splash pads open, generally 12 to 14 weeks.”

Peoria Park District staff, city officials, Park Board trustees and representatives from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development cut a ribbon for new amenities at Trewyn Park on Monday.
Collin Schopp
Peoria Park District staff, city officials, Park Board trustees and representatives from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development cut a ribbon for new amenities at Trewyn Park on Monday.

However, splash pads are far from the only change coming to Peoria’s parks. The district unveiled $600,000 in improvements to Trewyn Park earlier this week.Cahill says a grant from the Department of Natural Resources will connect Detweiller Park all the way to Camp Wakanda and Tawny Oaks through the Illinois River Bluff trail. Meanwhile, Community Development Block Grants from the City of Peoria will add new playgrounds, picnic shelters, walking paths and swings to Logan Park and a multipurpose picnic shelter to Morton Square Park.

When planning all these projects, Cahill says public input is crucial because the Park District wants to be a good steward of Peoria’s public spaces and places.

“Ultimately, our elected leaders and our experts that we have, as professional staff, have to make the most responsible decision based upon public input,” she said. “But it is hard for us and it is irresponsible of us not to say: ‘hey, what do you think?’ And have that be a part of the fabric that we use to make that decision.”

For example, the district is currently running a vote for what kind of playground will replace the old wooden one in Glen Oak Park, which is reaching the end of its lifespan. Cahill says the new playground is just one of a wide selection of potential improvements to Glen Oak, though it may not reach the performance heights it did in the 70’s, when names like Fleetwood Mac and the Beach Boys graced the stage.

Peoria Park Director Emily Cahill says the district is aiming for an early June open for the community's pools.

“We look forward to using that space for those kinds of community gatherings where it really is about social connection,” said Cahill. “Rather than a big name act, that's really going to be too loud for a lot of those neighbors.”

The Park Board of Trustees itself is also facing some change, as two new members were voted in during the Apr. 4 elections. Steve Montez and Reagan Leslie Hill officially take office next month, in the meantime Cahill says they’re undertaking a “trustee boot camp” to learn the ropes.

“You have to get to know them. You have to let them know about your traditions, and then you figure out how to work together,” she said. “And so that's what we look forward to doing here in the next couple of weeks and months.”

There are some issues the new Park Board trustees may find themselves discussing when they take office. One is a proposed moratorium on carbon dioxide pipeline development. Spurred by a proposal from the company Wolf Carbon Solutions raisingquestions across the Greater Peoria area, the Planning Committee viewed a draft of a moratorium at Tuesday’s meeting.

However, when it comes to carbon pipelines, Cahill says they’re still learning and gathering information.

“We want to clearly understand what it means,” she said. “And then we'll make a good educated decision based upon all the information that's available to us.”

One other request of the board is the Uplands Neighborhood Association’s request for a replacement for the Christopher Columbus statue removed from Laura Bradley Park in 2020. Cahill says district policy prohibits them from putting public funds towards statues or art.

“Our policy suggests at this point that they need to privately raise dollars in order to bring artwork or find someone who is willing to donate that artwork,” she said. “So we are in conversations with them.”

Finally, the district is well underway planning for Park-a-Palooza. A June 8-10 celebration on the Peoria Riverfront featuring the World’s Largest Bouncy House and Obstacle Course, a drone light show spectacular and a concert with Grammy Award-winning artist Ashley McBryde.

“It's a great opportunity for us to showcase not only the Peoria Park District, but Peoria in general,” Cahill said. “Our marketing reach for this extends beyond just our local network.”

The event is funded by grants from Illinois State Representative Jehan Gordon-Booth and the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity.

However, Park-a-Palooza is far from the only event happening in Peoria parks this summer. Cahill recommends checking the district’s online event calendar for something happening almost every day.

Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.