JOLIET – William Frederiksen calls Pilcher Park a “sanctuary,” but the potholes can make the drive into the wooded refuge a little rough.
“I know a lot of older people who don’t come out here anymore because of the roads, but I still do,” Frederiksen, a New Lenox resident, said outside of his truck parked along the cratery pavement that runs between the Pilcher Park Nature Center and Gougar Road.
Any day now, construction crews are coming to the rescue.
The Joliet Park District this week begins Phase 2 of the $2.4 million park improvement program that began last year.
Phase 2 is mostly about the roads – the ones running between the Nature Center and Gougar Road. They will be repaved throughout the summer.
It’s part of the last phase of renovations at the park after trails were upgraded and wooden bridges were installed last year.
The response to Pilcher Park renovations so far has been good, Joliet Park District Executive Director Tom Carstens said, but the message is that there still is work to do.
“They love the bridges. They love the trails. They’re anxious about the roads being fixed,” Carstens said.
At 640 acres, Pilcher Park is the Joliet Park District’s biggest park. It’s also the oldest park, and as Carstens said, “It is our most heavily used park, easily.”
He got a sense of how important Pilcher Park was when he spoke to the Frankfort Lions Club before leaving the Frankfort Park District to take the Joliet job early last year.
“I told the Lions that I was leaving to go to Joliet,” Carstens said. “One of the veteran Lions took me aside and told me, ‘When you get to Joliet, one of the first things you have to do is fix Pilcher Park.’ ”
Fortunately for Carstens, the park district two years earlier had passed a $19.5 million bond referendum that included money for fixing Pilcher Park.
The bumpy roads, however, are not the last problem to solve.
The roads are bad, said Edith Leal of Joliet. But so are the TVs, mattresses and other garbage that people dump in the park, she said.
“Sometimes, when we stop here with the kids, teenagers in the park drink and smoke,” Leal said. “I don’t like it for the kids.”
The dumping problem in Pilcher Park is notorious.
Frederiksen said he has hauled away some of it.
“I’ve picked up freezers and stuff like that that would be salvageable for some money,” he said.
The park district hopes to cut back on the dumping, much of which is believed to occur at night, by putting what might be the first security gates at the Cass Street and Gougar Road entrances to Pilcher Park. The gates will be closed at dusk.
“We hopefully won’t have refrigerators and TVs,” said Katie Zaban, manager of the Pilcher Park Nature Center. “People dump their yard waste and regular garbage, too.”
The park district also has installed security cameras at various places, including the Nature Center, which is one of the attractions at the park.
Pilcher Park also is home to the Barber & Oberwortmann Horticultural Center and Bird Haven Greenhouses. Hickory Creek runs through it. The acres of woods attract naturalists and hikers.
The upgrades are slated to be complete by early September.
Zaban looks forward to more park visitors once it’s all done.
“I hope it brings more people out who will enjoy nature and who will go hiking and enjoy the park,” she said.