The Des Plaines Park District: Steeped in Tradition and Looking to the Future
On January 25, 1919, when Des Plaines was a farming community, the citizens voted overwhelmingly to create a park district. The first parks were two small parcels of land, and during the next decade, eleven more parks were planned. Though the Great Depression wrought financial difficulties, the Park District continued the important work of acquiring and preserving open space for Des Plaines. Today, the district encompasses 59 parks and facilities, including some of the most beautiful recreation areas in Northern Illinois, and we are guided by our mission statement “Enhancing our community by providing quality recreational opportunities, facilities, parks and open space.”
In the late 1920s and throughout the 1930s, the district planned and developed the area on Miner Street, just west of Rand Road. Rand Park was already one of the most popular recreational sites in 1935 when the first Softball Fields were opened. Those fields, much refined and updated are in constant demand today for league play, tournaments and neighborhood pick-up games. The first tennis courts at Rand Park were installed in 1936, and those too are as popular as ever. As part of the WPA Project, in 1936 the district hired an architect to design the Rand Park Fieldhouse and Pool. Planning, development and construction took almost four years, and in February of 1940 the building opened to the public with a Fireman’s Ball. On August 4th of that year the Rand Park Pool opened to great acclaim. The cost: $375,000.00 with the Federal Government paying $250,000.00 of the total.
1951 was an exceptionally good year for acquisition of land for parks in Des Plaines, with purchase of land for both South Park (south of South School) and West Park (on Wolf Road). South Park was renamed in 1982, and dedicated as Arndt Park in memory of Ferdinand Arndt, the first Director of Parks. The 1950s saw Little League Baseball chartered in Des Plaines, the first Little League field built at Earle Field (now the site of the Central School ball fields), and twin field houses constructed at West Park and Arndt Park. Each Fieldhouse cost $44,000, and the buildings are as popular and busy today as at any time in the past, housing everything from belly-dancing classes to birthday parties, Martial Arts, tumbling and summer camps. The most important purchase of all was made in 1959, when the district bought the property at Touhy Avenue and Lee Street from the S.J. Groves Construction Co. That stretch of land which reached almost to Howard Avenue is, of course Lake Park. Cost: One Dollar.
We think it was money well spent.
Developing Lake Park included creating one of the largest man-made lakes in the area, which was dedicated on May 31, 1963 and named for Park Board Attorney Frank Opeka. The beautiful 18-hole par-three Lake Park Golf Course was also opened in May of 1963, and the combination of Lake Opeka (now that’s a water hazard!), lovely mature trees, and the well-manicured grass make this an exceptional course for young and old alike. Through the 1960s the Park District continued to expand, and we developed more outstanding recreational facilities for the residents of Des Plaines including two neighborhood pools – Chippewa and Iroquois – and nine new parks: Chippewa, Potawatomie, Comanche, Seminole, Sioux, Tomahawk, Winnebago, and Cheyenne. Comanche is now a part of the wonderful Prairie Lakes Park complex, and all of the other parks still provide a place to play in neighborhoods across Des Plaines. The original Memorial Pavilion at Lake Park, developed with private funds, was completed in June of 1975. On July 18, 2004, the current Lake Park Memorial Pavilion was dedicated. It includes the names of Des Plaines residents who served our country from the Civil War to the present day. The Pavilion is the site of a number of important events throughout the year, and is also the focal point for our Live at the Lake summer entertainment series and the main stage for our annual Fall Fest in September.
In December of 1978 the Park District purchased Maple Elementary School, on Birch Street from School District 62, for $385,000. That building is now the Administrative & Leisure Center, home to the Des Plaines Teen Center (dedicated in October of 2004), the Des Plaines School of Dance, the Leisure Center Health Club, and Creative Corners Preschool, as well as the administrative offices of the district. The Birch Street property is also the site of the Park District Greenhouse, where much of the beautiful foliage that decorates our parks is cultivated. Each year, people from all over the area flock to the greenhouse during the annual plant sale to pick up bargains and growing tips from the talented and knowledgeable horticultural staff.
The 1980s saw the opening of the Rand Park Water Slide, one the first in the area, and across town the start of what would become Prairie Lakes Park and Prairie Lakes Community Center. The grand opening of both Prairie Lakes and the adjacent Mountain View Mine Adventure Mini-Golf, in August of 1992, brought unique recreational activities to Des Plaines, and both facilities have been expanded and improved over the last decade. The Prairie Lakes Theater is one of the premier venues in the northwest suburbs, the Fitness Center features state-of-the-art equipment, and the entire park is one of the most beautiful you’ll find anywhere. In March of 2005, the grand re-opening of Mountain View Adventure Center showcased the brand new Skate Park, BMX Bike Park and Batting Cages. Now, it is the destination of choice for mini-golfers, from miles around, and baseball teams line up to practice before and during the season. The Skate & BMX Bike Park is one of the most popular in the area, and for the last two years the Pet Pooch & Pedal Parade has been held at Prairie Lakes, in conjunction with the Des Plaines Community Fair.
Mystic Waters Family Aquatic Center opened to rave reviews in June of 1996, completing the renovation of the original Rand Park Pool. One of the largest and most beautiful water parks in Northern Illinois, Mystic Waters quickly became a favorite destination for families throughout the Chicagoland area with its two exciting 37 foot slides, daring drop slides and cliff dives, 550 foot lazy river, zero depth leisure pool, and Beluga Beach area just for tots.
Facility and playground renovations continue through today, along with acquisitions of additional land and buildings. In September of 2000, the Park District purchased one of its most significant assets: the Golf Center Des Plaines. This unique complex is now the premier golf practice facility in the Midwest, with one of a kind features that draw golfers from near and far. The significant upgrades to equipment and turf in 2006, and a beautiful interior refurbishing in 2008 have kept this a destination for golfers of all levels. Open 364 days year-round, the Golf Center is truly a golfer’s dream come true, and a place you have to experience for yourself.
In June 2012, the Park District officially opened the North Lake Park area, at Lee and Howard Streets, on land that was purchased from the nearby church. This important addition allowed us to connect that space to the whole of Lake Park and provide new open space and amenities to the residents of Des Plaines.
Now, in 2014, the administration and staff continue to protect our open spaces as we plan, develop, and finish major projects across the district. We’re meeting the challenge of creating new and exciting programs for a more culturally diverse audience, to ensure that all residents of Des Plaines can enjoy recreational activities, leisure time, educational and cultural opportunities, classes, and events that enhance their lives. The Des Plaines Park District is second to none, and as we celebrate our 95th Anniversary, “Enriching lives everyday” is our vision and our constant goal. We hope you are inspired to Come Out & Play!