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Increasing accessibility at top of mind in renovation of Chillicothe's historic Shore Acres Park

The entrance to Shore Acres Park in Chillicothe.
Chillicothe Park District
The entrance to Shore Acres Park in Chillicothe.

The second phase of the Chillicothe Park District's Shore Acres Park renovations will make the park more inclusive for those with disabilities by creating ADA accessible walkways throughout the park and building an inclusive playground unlike any other in the area.

There will also be improvements to the park’s baseball and softball fields, additional pavilion space and upgrades to parking and infrastructure.

Kevin Yates, Chillicothe Park District’s executive director, says the improvements they are making will not only help more people enjoy the park, but it’ll also increase the district’s reach on a regional level.

“You’re competing for tourism dollars, you’re competing for visitors, you’re competing for future residents, and if we can do what we can to make our park features unique and special and an attraction for those people, we’re excited to be able to do that,” Yates said.

The park district conducted a survey in 2019 asking visitors and community members what direction the district should take next. As the recreational hub of the district, the inclusivity and accessibility of Shore Acres Park stood out to Yates and his team as an area that could be improved.

“Just because you can access something and it's accessible doesn’t mean all of the users can actually participate with the activity or on the piece of equipment itself,” Yates said. “Inclusive is kind of a catchword right now, but we feel that we’ve got a good handle on it and we feel that what we’re bringing to our community is gonna do that.”

The renovations started in 2017, with phase one wrapping up in 2021. The first phase started with renovations to the park’s clubhouse, which is named on the National Register of Historic Places. It continued with improved tennis, basketball and pickleball courts as well as expanded parking for the Shore Acres Pool and newly-revamped recreation area.

Phase two is projected to be completed by spring of 2025, but Yates says the early Central Illinois spring could push their timeline up to as early as fall of this year.

“The warm weather has certainly helped us along and spurred us to get started, and if it sticks around it’s gonna be great for our project,” Yates said.

The project is estimated to cost $2.1 million, but the area’s tax rate will not increase to fund it. Back in March of last year, the district was awarded a $600,000 grant through the State of Illinois OSLAD (Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development) Grant, which the park district had to match in order to receive. The rest of the funding will come through the Chillicothe Park Foundation, an organization created to help pay for new park developments and a place where Yates serves as administrator.

Local businesses have signed on to help fund the project, but the rest of it will come through individual donations to the foundation. The district will also take out bonds that will be repaid through the OSLAD grant. The most important thing, Yates says, is that taxpayers don’t have to worry about paying more.

“It’s not very often that we’re able to bring a project of this size and not immediately affect the rate that people that live in our community are paying,” Yates said. “We’re excited to be able to do that for them.”

Due to the construction, Yates says the baseball field won’t be in service for the season and everything to the north of the clubhouse will be closed to traffic. He hopes to keep the disc golf course open, but expects there will be some off and on closing for that.

Following the changes to the park, the district wants to move on to the Shore Acres Pool. It underwent renovations in 2006 and had a part in phase one of the master plan, so the city wants to keep up the theme of accessibility in redoing the bathhouse. Yates doesn’t want to put a timeline on it yet since they haven’t broken ground on the park itself, but he hopes to attack it in the next five to six years.

The park district also renovated Coal Hollow Park and Santa Fe Park in the past, and Yates said the lessons learned from those will guide the district through this project. In his 25 years in the district, Yates has never done a project like this, and he said he is excited that everyone will be able to enjoy all the park has to offer.

“We want to be able to build an activity area, a playground area, a park that allows as many people as possible to participate,” Yates said. “Whether they’re from our community or visiting our community, we want to create an area that says, ‘you are welcome here.’”

The foundation is hosting a fundraiser on March 15 called “Dueling Pianos”, a part of their Party in the Park initiative, with all proceeds benefiting their “Play For All” campaign to help fund the renovations. You can find information on that as well as renderings of the changes by going to the foundation’s web site.

Mason Klemm is a reporting intern for WCBU. He is studying sports communication at Bradley University and is expected to graduate in May 2024.