From Stone Quarry To Sandy Beach

Have you ever wondered what happens to a stone quarry when it reaches the end of its productive mining life? In most cases, fill is added and the land redeveloped for another use.

Boats are available for rental

But every once in a while, the continual scraping along the mine’s bottom eventually wears; a puncture is made to the water table below, and a lake is created.

To local fishermen, this is a gift from the heavens.

For a local government, however, a new problem emerges–what do you do with the flooded property?

For one Illinois community, a flooded quarry spawned an idea: why not turn this into something that can generate revenue and attract new business?

Welcome to Three Oaks Recreation Area.


In the early 1950s, mining firm Vulcan Materials began extracting sand and stone from a quarry in Crystal Lake, Ill., 50 miles northwest of Chicago. The extracted raw materials would help produce gravel aggregate, a base material necessary for road construction.

But after four decades of mining, the water table at the quarry’s bottom was exposed, creating two deepwater lakes that were stocked with fish over the years. Not wanting to pass up an opportunity, a local fisherman’s club visited as often as they could, affectionately dubbing the area “Vulcan Lakes.”

By 1990, with its mining activity complete, Vulcan Materials deeded the 462-acre property back to the city. Consultant studies indicated that the former quarry could be converted for a new purpose–a recreational area.

But the city envisioned more–it sought to create a community destination, wanting something visually pleasing, functional … and capable of generating revenue from boat rentals, concession sales, non-resident parking, corporate outings and maybe weddings, too.

The city turned to landscape architectural firm Hitchcock Design Group, with offices in Naperville and Chicago. With a reputation for award-winning riverwalks, nature-based parks and recreation destinations, the firm was tasked with leading the consultant team of engineers, ecologists, architects and contractors.

The $14-million quarry-reclamation project was entirely funded by bonds sold from the city’s home-rule sales tax.

“Constructing improvements within a quarry presents many challenges,” admits Andy Howard, a Hitchcock Design project designer.

“We knew the learning curve was steep, and the unknowns plentiful, but also knew that we could count on the expertise that each of our consultants brought,” he adds.

The Vision

With its consulting team in place, the design group and city leaders worked together to flesh out a vision. A large, rustic lake house would serve as the project centerpiece, providing a secure point-of-access to a proposed sand beach. This facility would also house locker rooms, rest rooms and a concession area, as well as offices for lifeguards, first aid and maintenance.

Other “wish list” features emerged: a boat rental marina on the north and south lakes, a trail system that encircled the site, picnic shelters and a boardwalk system to connect the handful of islands. Other amenities like a playground, splash pad and volleyball courts would follow.

“It made sense that this destination would be more passive in nature,” relates Howard.

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