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Trail link a surprise bonus for park
Apr 2, 2007
Mick Zawislak, Staff Writer
Daily Herald
Pertains to EJ&E, Barrington
The company picnics were a summer highlight in the Barrington area, colossal gatherings on the manicured grounds of the old Jewel Tea headquarters.

Teresa Jennings is among thousands left with indelible memories of the site, just north of Route 14. But that was long ago.

As director of parks and recreation for the Barrington Park District, Jennings has spent the last eight years overseeing the sometimes bitterly contested transformation of the 55 acres into a very expensive public park.

Grass needs to be planted in the Kampert Meadow and some punch list items are being completed. After years of debate and delays, however, the $17 million Citizens Park essentially is finished.

With the long haul nearly over, Jennings also learned there will be icing on the cake: the Lake County Forest Preserve is proceeding with a tandem project expected to have regional benefits.

A long-sought connection from the park to the adjacent Cuba Marsh forest preserve will provide an indisputable asset for southern Lake County, supporters say. Deferred for several years because of the high cost, the project has been wedged into a jam-packed list of improvements in the forest preserve’s proposed 2007-08 budget.

Neighboring communities, including Lake Zurich and Deer Park, those represented by the Barrington Area Council of Governments, and Barrington and Cuba Townships have been enthusiastic supporters of the link.

“It serves a wider community, that’s my point,” said Stevenson Mountsier, a forest preserve commissioner from Lake Barrington. “It’s not just helping the village of Barrington.”

A link to the preserve’s 792-acre blend of marsh, woods and grasslands, traversed by 2 miles of trails, would enhance a bike path system in an area crisscrossed by heavily traveled roads. It also would provide access to Barrington’s central business district, library, high school, historical society and Metra commuter station.

“The bike path connections down by us are horrible,” Jennings said recently in the latest of several pitches to the forest preserve district. “It’s not easy to get anywhere. This would open doors in a big way.”

Forest preserve officials always have agreed with the merits of a connecting trail, but have balked at the cost. The most recent estimate is more than $966,000 to traverse about three-quarters of a mile.

“It’s a wonderful connection. It’s a very expensive connection though,” said Tom Hahn, executive director of the forest preserve district.

That is because a substantial portion of the trail will span water. A 50-foot long timber bridge 3 to 4 feet above a small creek will provide the entrance from Citizens Park, 511 Lake Zurich Road. Either end of a crushed gravel trail will be connected by an 830-foot boardwalk.

“It will be one of the largest ones we’ve ever built,” said Gregg Walenter, project manager for the forest preserve district.

With the pending opening of the park, commissioners this year wanted to find a spot in the budget.

“If we think it’s important enough, we should find the money,” Commissioner Brent Paxton of Zion said during a recent discussion of the plan. “I think the time is right.”

The park district sold a 10-acre pond to the forest preserve last year. Jennings said the district will donate the $100,000 or so in proceeds toward the connection.

Construction is expected to begin in August, with the connection ready for public use in June 2008.

Permits are pending from the Lake County Stormwater Management Agency, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Walenter expects approval because no threatened or endangered wildlife would be affected by the trail work.

The controversy over the park stems from an effort to preserve the main former Jewel building.

Jewel built a massive art deco headquarters and four huge warehouses in 1930 and stayed until 1984. A packing company took over and stayed until 1994, when the property was purchased by Northwest Community Hospital. Citizens petitioned the park district to get involved. Park district taxpayers approved a tax hike in 2000 and bond issue in 2002 to buy the property.

Including land acquisition, design, construction and various fees, Citizens Park became a $17 million project.

But a citizens group worked to have the main building preserved as a community center.

Bob Woodsome, a former Barrington village president, executive at Jewel and vice president of the Barrington Area Historical Society, said the park district was very adamant about what it wanted to do.

“It became kind of a nasty situation,” he said.

Woodsome, who moved to Minnesota last June, said the group had one victory, as the building in February 2004 was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. That designation doesn’t necessarily provide protection, however, and the building was demolished.

On that spot, the cedar and stone Jewel Tea Pavilion is the centerpiece of Citizens Park. Waterfalls greet visitors at the park, which also features basketball and tennis courts, hiking and biking trails, a terraced-seating amphitheater, shelters, a gazebo, lodge and athletic fields. A privately funded $450,000, handicapped-accessible tree house is another main attraction.

Jennings said the park district’s stance always had been that voters wanted a park.

"It’s amazing what’s taken place here," she said.

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