ParkTalk Blog: Five Ways the Naperville Park District is Environmentally Green

Monday, April 22, 2024

Environmental education, stewardship and sustainability is one of the core values of the Naperville Park District, and the Park District is committed to many environmental initiatives that benefit our local community and beyond. From using solar energy to preserving natural areas, the Park District has established itself as a leader of sustainable practices. While this blog highlights only some initiatives, there are many aspects to the District's environmentalism. Here are five notable ways (curated from a much longer list) that the Naperville Park District contributes to overall environmental stewardship:

#1: Leveraging Clean and Renewable Energy

An array of solar panels on top of Fort Hill Activity Center.

Solar power is a clean and renewable energy source that reduces the need for burning fossil fuels. Since 2014, the Naperville Park District has installed solar panels to help power several of its parks and facilities. At Knoch Knolls Nature Center, an 18-kilowatt array of panels supplies approximately 15% of the energy requirements of the building. On the roof of the Book Pavilion at Nike Sports Complex, 45 solar panels produce an average of 16,000 kWh (kilowatts per hour) annually, offsetting 27,690 lbs. of carbon dioxide, 55.9 lbs. of carbon monoxide and 143 lbs. of sulfur. At the Fort Hill Activity Center, 117 solar panels covering the south-facing roof produce an estimated 40,000 kWh annually. Altogether, these solar arrays produced 74,537 kilowatts per hour in 2023, saving the Park District an estimated $8,199 and reducing 52.7 tons of CO2 emissions.

Solar power doesn't only help power Park District facilities. Park staff installed two solar-powered pond aerators at Hobson West Ponds to enhance pond fish habitats, improve water quality, reduce algae, and remove phosphorus in the pond. Park Police use a solar-powered mobile security camera and the Fleet Department uses solar power to operate ten trailer lifts. One of the best things about solar power is that it reduces greenhouse gas emissions significantly by using a power source that will never run out.

#2: Recycling Water

1,400-gallon cistern inside of Knoch Knolls Nature Center.

Naperville Park District has made great strides to conserve water across its park operations. Water from retention ponds and quarries is used for irrigation all around the District. Additionally, several other practices have been implemented to cut back on water use. For example, Springbrook and Naperbrook Golf Courses use soil moisture sensors to determine when the turf needs to be irrigated. Similarly, Frontier Sports Complex, Commissioners Park and Knoch Park utilize rain sensors that determine if the soil is moist in order to avoid using more water. Synthetic turf fields at Nike Sports Complex, Knoch Park and Commissioners Park don't require watering due to their artificial nature. Knoch Knolls Nature Center collects and reappropriates rainwater in a unique way. When the center was built in 2014, a 1,400-gallon cistern was installed; this feature is designed to recycle collected rainwater into the restrooms and irrigate the living wall. In 2023, 144,538 total gallons of rainwater were collected, providing 77% of the water needed for those aspects; this also resulted in the savings of approximately $1,445 in water costs.

Recycling water goes beyond saving money, however. These methods affect residents by reserving local potable water supply - the community's drinking water. For example, the parking lot at Knoch Knolls Park is a permeable paver lot, meaning the gravel, sand and soil base allows rainwater to percolate into the ground rather than flood an area. The water helps recharge the below ground aquifer, which people with wells tap into. Saving this water supply also slows runoff from the site and leads to the overall improved water quality of local streams.

#3: Managing Prescribed Burns

Result of a prescribed burn at Knoch Knolls Park.

Have you ever passed a natural area that is charred and burned and wondered why it looked that way? This is the result of a practice known as prescribed burns, also sometimes referred to as controlled burns. Prescribed burns are intentionally ignited fires in specific areas that are designed to improve the overall health of an ecosystem. It is meant to simulate early Illinois prairie fires, which occurred naturally when lightning struck grassy plains. Nowadays, state-certified Naperville Park District staff and other certified professionals conduct these burns in pre-determined natural areas in Naperville, mostly every spring and fall, weather permitting.

Prescribed burns are an effective way to clear a natural area of invasive weeds, leaves, and other plant debris on the ground. This process returns nutrients to the soil and triggers germination of native pollinator plants. These plants depend on burns as part of their natural lifecycle, making this process necessary to maintain a healthy ecosystem across the approximate 452 acres of natural areas managed by the Naperville Park District.

#4: Integrating Autonomous Mowers

Two of the five autonomous mowers parked.

In 2023, the Naperville Park District took its next step in environmental sustainability with the introduction and testing of autonomous lawn mowers. These mowers, which were used in three parks - White Eagle Park, Kingshill Park and Monarch Park - used GPS technology to map out a grass-cutting course, and sensors to detect any obstacles in their path. The Park District added two more autonomous mowers to Heatherstone Park and Country Lakes Parks in the fall of 2023, and all five mowers are a part of the 2024 contract. Separately, the Parks Department purchased two of the same electric mowers, only they need human operators. Overall, these electric, zero-turn machines that produce no greenhouse gas emissions with no potential for gasoline or oil leaks, eliminate the need for fossil fuels. Their efficiency and environmental benefits open the possibility of other eco-friendly maintenance methods.

#5: Protecting Natural Habitats

A monarch butterfly in its natural habitat.

To create a healthy ecosystem, it is important to ensure that the wildlife living within it thrives. The health of mammals, insects and plants in an ecosystem plays an important part in the health of human lives as well. Because of this, the Naperville Park District understands the importance of maintaining and protecting wildlife habitats. Honeybees, for example, are essential to the continued propagation of many of the fruits and vegetables that we enjoy. To improve the population of honeybees, which has seen a decrease in recent years, volunteers at Ron Ory Community Garden Plots maintain two hives of honeybees, protecting their habitats and increasing their population.

The Park District puts just as much attention and effort into the maintenance of its native areas. Pollinator gardens were incorporated into areas along the Riverwalk, near Rotary Hill and at Springbrook and Naperbrook Golf Courses. These areas have allowed Milkweed, a pollinator plant, to grow naturally to provide a habitat for monarch butterflies to lay eggs and feed caterpillars. The District maintains five monarch butterfly waystations at Knoch Knolls Nature Center, Nike Sports Complex, Country Lakes Park, Seager Park and the Garden Plots. They are all certified through Monarch Watch, meaning that each waystation habitat is provided with the necessary resources for monarchs to sustain their migration. The thoughtful oversight given to maintaining these habitats leads to a healthier ecosystem for the living creatures living within them and benefits the overall environment.

If you are interested in learning more about the Park District's green initiatives (including the annual Sustainability Report), other ongoing initiatives or ways you can help the environment, visit