OAKWOOD – Colorful playground equipment, picnic tables and a basketball court now occupy what once was two village-owned lots in the middle of an Oakwood mobile home park.
Despite a few setbacks due to the heavy spring rains, Veterans Park on Barbara Street is nearly finished and already has been visited by Oakwood families and children, particularly those living south of U.S. Route 150.
“You would not believe the kids that are all over it,” Oakwood Trustee Ferrell Stroh said of the new park.
An official ribbon cutting is planned on Thursday, Oct. 3 at Veterans Park, which Stroh named to honor local veterans.
“It’s not completed yet, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said as he stood in the middle of the park. “All of this in 17 months and battling the rain in the spring.”
Creating the park was an idea hatched by Stroh, a Lee Street resident, who wanted a safe place for children living in his neighborhood to play because they couldn’t safely reach Oakwood’s main village park without crossing busy U.S. Route 150.
“It wasn’t feasible for kids down here to cross 150 to get to Oakwood Park,” Stroh explained.
Left to their own devices, the children in the mobile home park tried to create their own fun.
“We used to have five, six portable basketball hoops up and down Lee Street, but it’s a high-speed street,” Stroh said. “It was dangerous.”
Donations of money, equipment and labor from community businesses, individuals and village employees helped Stroh realize his dream of creating a park.
The village’s public works employees took down trees and ground up stumps, tore down a garage and broke up some old driveways to prepare the lot for development.
“We got this done in a year and a half,” Stroh said.
Four picnic tables were donated by the Vermilion County McDonalds, Illinois State Trooper Bobby Woodard donated the basketball hoop and backboard for the concrete basketball court and Love’s Travel Stop donated $2,000 for purchases.
“We also had individual donations that were put forth,” Stroh said.
The park is illuminated at night with overhead electrical lighting, and a flagpole at the rear of the property has solar lights that shine on the American flag after dark. Sunset Funeral Home is donating a bronze plaque that will be encased in concrete at the base of the flagpole, and a boulder at the entrance of the park will be engraved by Leverenz Memorials.
The playground equipment is a mix of newly purchased pieces with a few pieces that came from Oakwood Park. The leftover pieces from Oakwood Park were freshened up with powder coating.
“Some of it we bought, and some of it was from Oakwood Park when the village redid that park a while ago,” Stroh said.
The new playground features equipment for all ages, including a bumble bee kiddie ride, four spring-loaded horses, a merry-go-round, a slide, a swing set and a monkey bars/climbing apparatus.
“One of the things that held us back was the mulch for the playground,” Stroh said. “We needed 120 cubic yards – that’s three semi truckloads – and rain held them up getting into the woods, chipping it and treating it.”
The finishing touches are being made to the park in the next few weeks before the ribbon cutting.
Stroh said he has two quotes for 6-foot-high fencing that he would like installed along the southern edge of the park to prevent children from wandering into a neighbor’s yard.
“We have two bicycle racks from the other park, and we’re going to repaint them,” he said.
Bicycle tires tracks leading up to the park could be seen in the dirt, proving evidence that children already had discovered the park.
“Kids are using the park like you wouldn’t believe,” he said. “It’s made a big impact in our area. It’s definitely money well spent.”