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Hidden Measures: A behind-the-scenes look at the Park District’s new green initiatives

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Did you know that the Park District’s new Fort Hill Activity Center is partially powered by 117 solar panels on its roof?  This new, mostly hidden source of renewable energy is just one of the many eco-friendly features of the Activity Center. A sign posted at the entrance to the Activity Center explains the benefits of these hard-working solar panels. 

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A row of solar panels is barely visible on the left side of the roof.

Keep reading to discover 8 other ways in which the Park District is helping to keep Naperville green. And learn how you can help.

1. Conserving and purifying stormwater naturally.  Parking lots at several parks and facilities have permeable pavers designed to let stormwater soak in through the spaces between the pavers. The Park District added nearly 10,000 square feet of permeable pavers in 2016 at Fort Hill Activity Center, along with a bioswale, which is a low-lying strip of land planted with native plants that act like a sponge. The pavers and the bioswale work together to filter and clean stormwater before it flows to local waterways.

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Permeable pavers and bioswale at Fort Hill Activity Center filter stormwater on site.

Native plants help purify water that flows into our creeks and streams. The Park District planted more of these beneficial native plants along McDonald Creek at Knoch Knolls Park, extending from the Nature Center to the DuPage River. 

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McDonald Creek and the interpretive sign explaining how its shoreline was restored to feature native plants 

What you can do:  Collect and re-use stormwater at home by purchasing a rain barrel. Plant a small rain garden in a low spot in your back yard. Learn more about native plants here or stop by the Ron Ory Community Garden Plots to see a demonstration rain garden.  There also is an educational sign explaining the rain garden at Meadow Glens.

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Purchase a rain barrel here.

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Visit the Idea Gardens at the Ron Ory Community Garden Plots, located at 811 S. West St.

2. Beautifying parks with the help of volunteers. In 2016, 1,740 volunteers helped with park maintenance tasks including litter picking, mulching, weeding, planting and seed harvesting. The Adopt-A-Park program is growing, with new options for groups to take care of a field or trail within a park. 

New this year, the Park District is coordinating a community-wide celebration of Earth Week, involving special events and many volunteer projects out in the parks and throughout the city. 

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Volunteers litter picking in 2016

What you can do:  Join an Earth Week volunteer project, consider adopting a trail, field or park, or look for other volunteer opportunities throughout the year.

3. Helping pollinators survive and thrive. Honey bees, monarch butterflies and other pollinator insects are declining, posing a threat to world food supplies.  Late in 2016 the Naperville Park District joined with other local governments in approving a DuPage Monarch Project Resolution to support pollinators and help educate others about their plight. The District has nurtured several hives of honey bees in the organic section of the Ron Ory Community Garden Plots since 2014 and maintains more than 260 acres of natural areas where native pollinator plants can flourish. 

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 A monarch butterfly on a milkweed plant. Photo by A.J. Koenig 

In 2017 the District plans to create several monarch butterfly way stations, including one at Knoch Knolls Nature Center, with milkweed plants necessary for their food in preparation for their migration to Mexico each year. 

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Cub Scouts planted milkweed plants at the Ron Ory Community Garden Plots

What you can do:  Plant native plants at home that attract bees and butterflies and eliminate the use of pesticides in your landscaping.

4. Providing more walking and biking trails through natural areas. The Park District partnered with the Forest Preserve District of Will County to add a new trail, Segment 5 of the DuPage River Trail, linking Knoch Knolls Park to the 95th Street Bridge. The new trail begins just south of the bicycle/pedestrian bridge at Knoch Knolls Park, branching off from the existing trail, which is known as Segment 4. Now that Segment 5 is complete, walkers or bicyclists can enjoy a beautiful path through the woods and along the river, experiencing nature in all four seasons.

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Segment 4 of the DuPage River Trail, approaching the bicycle/pedestrian bridge at Knoch Knolls Park

What you can do:  Explore the DuPage River Trail starting at Knoch Knolls Park or at any other stop that is convenient. Walk or bike Segment 5 to experience the peace and quiet of the woodlands and stop to view the Confluence of the East and West Branches of the DuPage River.

5. Saving energy with LED lighting and Solatubes. The Park District continues to install or upgrade to LED lighting at facilities and parks. With the assistance of a $5,700 grant through the Illinois Municipal Electric Agency and the City of Naperville, the Park District invested in LED lights in the parking lot at Commissioners Park. The new lights are predicted to save more than 56,000 kilowatt hours of electricity each year.  The District also installed LED lights throughout the Fort Hill Activity Center. In addition, Solatubes light the gymnasium with sunlight, funneled to create bright, natural light that lessens the need for artificial lighting.

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Solatubes shine brightly above the gymnasium, reducing the need for artificial lights.

What you can do:  Gradually replace incandescent or fluorescent lights in your home with LED lights as you are able.

6. Saving paper, saving trees.  In 2016, the Park District began mailing its quarterly Program Guide through the U.S. mail, rather than via a delivery service. Increased accuracy in delivery allowed the Park District to reduce the number of copies printed. As a result, the District used nearly 2.9 million fewer sheets of paper, saving 348 trees.

What you can do:  If you find that you are relying on the Virtual Program Guide and don’t need a paper copy, you can opt out of home delivery by visiting www.napervilleparks.org/govirtual.  Extra copies of the Program Guide are always available for pick up at Park District facilities should you need one. 

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7. Recycling and re-using materials. In addition to providing trash and recycling cans in convenient locations for patrons to use in the parks, Park District staff recycles a variety of materials in daily operations. Tires, engine oil, oil filters, metal, electronics and used vegetable oil are some of the materials recycled by staff. In addition, staff was able to re-use the HVAC system from the Barn for the Riverwalk Café and salvaged refrigerant from the building for future use. Park maintenance staff chipped 3,400 Christmas trees discarded by area businesses, which will be used for the District’s mulching activities this spring, summer and fall.

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Volunteers help mulch a trail. Park staff obtained 15 truckloads of mulch for 2017 from recycled Christmas trees.

What you can do:  Bring a reusable water bottle when you visit the parks. However, if you do have bottles or cans to dispose of, please recycle in the correct container.  Recycling bins usually are placed adjacent to trash cans in our parks to make disposal as convenient as possible.

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Recycling bins are located conveniently at Knoch Park playground and in other parks and sports complexes.

8. Making nature accessible to those with visual impairment.  In 2016 the Park District launched a new mobile tour system at Knoch Knolls Nature Center which can be accessed online from a smart phone or computer at https://napervilleparks.oncell.com/en/index.html or by calling 630-315-9156. The audio described tour is completely outdoors, leading visitors along the nature trail that loops around the Nature Center, beginning and ending at the parking lot.  The tour includes detailed descriptions of the educational signs and the natural features in the area, so that a visitor with visual impairment can hear much of the information that is printed on the signs, gain a sense of place and enjoy all of the other sensory features of the environment, such as the rustling grasses, bubbling creek and scent of the flowers.

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Visitors test the new audio described tour at Knoch Knolls Park prior to release

What you can do: Do you know someone with visual impairment who might enjoy taking the audio described tour?  Pass along this link: https://napervilleparks.oncell.com/en/index.html  and they can take the tour from their computer. Or visit the Nature Center with your friend and enjoy a peaceful and educational walk outdoors as you assist them with the audio described tour.

Please note:  The Park District also offers a scavenger hunt on the same mobile tour system, allowing families and groups of visitors to complete the activities outdoors on their own.  And for Earth Day 2017, the District will release a third mobile tour with new guided activities related to Earth Day. 

Although the Knoch Knolls Nature Center building will be closed for repairs during the spring of 2017, all of the mobile tours can be enjoyed throughout the season, as they are fully outdoors.

For more detail on any of the Naperville Park District’s green initiatives, visit the Green Initiatives webpage where you can find the 2016 Sustainability Report.

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