WEST CHICAGO – After a severe storm hit West Chicago in July 2012, Reed-Keppler Park was filled with the wreckage of more than 160 trees damaged beyond repair.
Since then, the West Chicago Park District has been hard at work, breathing new life into the park by planting about 80 trees of various species and adding other features, including flower beds and new trails.
In recognition of this work and other beautification efforts, the city recently received a “three bloom” rating and special mention in urban forestry from the America in Bloom national awards program.
“It’s a great community, and I think people are finding that,” said Jesse Felix, West Chicago Park District superintendent of parks.
Two judges from the program visited the city July 7 through 10 after Felix applied to include West Chicago in the competition led by nonprofit America in Bloom, which promotes community involvement in beautification programs.
Participating towns are judged on six criteria: overall impression, environmental awareness, heritage, urban forestry, landscape and floral displays. Judges consider each of these areas across the town’s municipal, residential and commercial sectors and evaluate the level of community involvement in each.
As part of the judging process, program representatives toured West Chicago, visiting various parks, neighborhoods and commercial areas, as well as the City Museum, City Hall, Kruse House Museum and the rain gardens at Educare of West DuPage early childhood learning center.
Spending time at historic places, including the Kruse House Museum, allowed the judges to see how those areas are maintained to preserve the properties’ histories while also creating beautiful landscaping, Felix said.
The judges learned more about West Chicago’s history, as well as historic preservation efforts in the area, through their visit to the City Museum, where they also received a better understanding of the city’s current character, he said.
The special mention in urban forestry stemmed primarily from the West Chicago Park District’s work restoring Reed-Keppler Park.
In addition to replanting, the Park District and local residents found a unique use for the wood of the damaged trees, working with Illinois Institute of Technology students to create furniture and other items that were then sold and raffled off at this year’s Railroad Days festival.
The judges also looked at this recycling effort as part of the environmental awareness component of the program, Felix said.
The three bloom rating was given out of a possible five blooms, and city and Park District officials said they were happy with the feedback they received about West Chicago’s first year in the program.
“Now that we’ve got one year under our belt, it will make a difference next year,” Mayor Ruben Pineda said.