Techny Prairie Park and Fields is an 82-acre parcel located southeast of downtown Northbrook, Ill. The Northbrook Park District set out to create a unique and attractive park and uphold the district’s established goals and objectives. The renovation and additions to this community asset provide a one-stop shop for residents, and offer a range of recreational opportunities, including ball fields, batting cages, a skate park, synthetic-turf soccer fields, a play environment, a renovated nine-hole golf course with support building and a multi-use trail connection to the regional trail system.
Beyond the park’s aesthetic value, it is a central location for diverse recreational opportunities, giving families a place to play together. Imagine a father and teenage son playing a quick round of golf while the mother and toddler enjoy the play environment adjacent to the field where their daughter is having soccer practice. Techny Prairie Park offers both passive and active recreation, and provides ample opportunities for the district and local organizations.
Built as the first phase of the overall park, the unique Trail Through Time–a 16-acre area along the West Fork of the North Branch of the Chicago River–was designed as an outdoor educational and recreational area. The site preserves the natural character of the land while enhancing the indigenous plant material and reestablishing the parcel’s existing wetland. The educational concept provides visitors a “trail through time,” with nodes depicting how land has been used by various historical cultures. The modern formal garden, the early settlement, the council ring and Native American homestead serve as spaces for both passive uses and programmed activities. This eclectic “museum” trail celebrates a local plant hybridizer, Brother Charles, the Potawatomie Indians, the first pioneer settlers, and the famous 1800s landscape architect, Jens Jensen.
Degree Of Community Involvement
Acknowledging that public input is a key component in the development of recreational facilities, the community was invited to participate in Open House Community Meetings, led by the initial design team during the master plan process. Preliminary and final concepts were presented at public village board meetings throughout the design development by the Northbrook Park District and the design team, led by Hitchcock Design Group.
Creative Use Of Materials
Set against the natural backdrop of the Chicago River, the park is visually pleasing. Materials and site furnishings throughout are in line with the natural character of the park, as the stone, wood and paving complement each other. Care was taken to preserve the large existing trees on-site. In the play environment, rubber safety surfacing was designed to mimic the Northbrook Park District logo.
Efficient Uses Of Energy And Natural Resources
There was a conscious effort to minimize disturbance of the site in order to maintain the site character as well as preserve the natural shade from the existing mature trees. The landscape plan specified primarily native trees, shrubs and perennials, which use less water and require less maintenance.
Careful measures were taken throughout construction to ensure that existing wetlands remained undisturbed, and portions of the wetland were restored to ensure the habitat continues to thrive. The trail system is composed of milled asphalt paving and a boardwalk system across the wetlands. The prairie and wetland restoration within the floodplain and additional compensatory storage for flood waters benefit the West Fork of the North Branch of the Chicago River. The restoration has increased available wildlife habitat and an additional vegetative buffer for storm water prior to its entering the river.
Consideration Of Maintenance And Operation Expenses
Understanding the budgetary concerns for future maintenance needs of the park, the design team incorporated a number of long-term, cost-saving elements–the greatest of which was the native restoration of the prairie, reducing the need for mowing, fertilizing and upkeep of turf. The prairie will need to be periodically burned to maintain the quality of the ecosystem, but that cost is lower compared to traditional maintenance costs of the same acreage of turf. The use of Trex lumber for the boardwalk system will minimize future maintenance labor costs, since it does not require staining and has a longer life span than a traditional wood deck. Rather than using natural turf for the soccer and lacrosse fields, which requires significant maintenance and chemical treatments that may be harmful to the environment, the park district incorporated synthetic-turf fields. While initial costs are significant, these require only periodic upkeep and will have a longer life span than turf. The restored ecosystems are sustainable, meaning they require little to no maintenance, and benefit the environment.
One of the most unique aspects of the project is the use of milled asphalt from local road re-surfacing projects for portions of the trail system. The park district worked with the village to have the village’s roadway contractor haul the milled asphalt from the road projects to the park site. From there, the park contractor sorted any large pieces of asphalt that were not ground down enough during the milling process. The milled asphalt was installed by the park contractor throughout the site as part of an 8-foot wide trail system. The milled asphalt was installed similar to crushed limestone trail systems with a 6-inch layer of smaller-sized millings as the base course, and a 2- to 3-inch layer of finer-sized millings as the top course.
Techny Prairie Park meets ADA guidelines for public spaces, the Illinois Accessibility Code and the American Society of Testing Materials guidelines. Specific ADA guidelines include:
· Grading measures to ensure the trail and boardwalk are fully accessible and barrier-free. All of the walkways have a maximum longitudinal gradient of 5 percent.
· All programmed areas are ADA-compliant and fully accessible.
· Accessible parking is incorporated into the site improvements.
Impact Of The Park On The Community
Since construction was completed in 2006, Techny Prairie Park and Fields has become a premiere destination park for Northbrook and surrounding communities. It provides an incredible number of active recreation opportunities, and local neighborhoods utilize the trail system for passive recreation throughout the year–biking, jogging and walking. The trail connects to the much larger regional trail system of the Techny Trail, and its path through several ecosystems provides visitors with a variety of experiences, allowing them to positively interact with the natural environment.
The educational component of the Techny Prairie Park and Fields makes it truly unique to the community. Various programming events have taken place through the park district, as well as use by local schools and Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops. Visitors, young and old, are provided with a historical perspective on various approaches to living with the land. The boardwalk system traverses the wetland, allowing visitors to get “up-close and personal” with the plants, animals and insects that live there.
Techny Prairie Park and Fields is a noteworthy example of creating a community facility that provides both recreational and education opportunities. From building a wigwam, enjoying a quick round of golf or testing a new move at the skate park, to bird watching in the prairie–Northbrook residents have been given an incredible facility to enjoy and experience.
Facility amenities include:
· lighted baseball fields
· batting cages
· concrete skate park
· synthetic-turf soccer fields
· multi-age play environment
· multi-use trails connected to regional trail system
· renovated nine-hole golf course
· support building with restrooms, outdoor patio, golf pro shop
· picnic shelters and gathering spaces
· stone outcropping along lake for fishing access
· milled asphalt trail system
· educational signage
· boardwalks and wetland overlooks
· wetland restoration
· native vegetation restoration
· site furniture–benches, receptacles
· educational trail with programming areas
· formal garden with seating areas and trellis structures
· settlers area with sod house foundation and herb and kitchen garden
· Native American area with wigwam and firepit
· council ring with firepit
Steve Konters, LEED AP, and Principal, works in the recreation design studio at Hitchcock Design Group in Illinois. He has been serving the recreation industry for over a decade. Since joining Hitchcock Design Group, Steve has played key design and project management roles for the recreation design studio. He has also been instrumental in assisting park districts in obtaining funding through grant opportunities including IDNR OSLAD funds, IEPA 319 grants, and Illinois First funds. Steve can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on Hitchcock Design, visit www.hitchcockdesigngroup.com.