Sustainable Parks Initiative

The Naperville Park District's Sustainable Parks Initiative began in 2017 as a two-year plan to maintain eight designated parks and all playgrounds with natural and organic products. After a successful trial period, the plan has become an established practice for the District.  

In summer 2017, following the urging of the resident group, Non-Toxic Naperville, Park District staff conducted a three-month review in order to take a closer look at the opportunity to increase the use of natural and organic products. The goal was for residents to have a variety of parks located across the community that will be maintained using only natural/organic materials and environmentally-friendly practices such as hand weeding.

The Sustainable Parks Initiative is being successfully implemented and will continue to include all playgrounds and eight park locations that will be maintained using organic products and sustainable practices. The eight parks encompass approximately 78 acres and include the following:

  • Cress Creek Park
  • Columbia Commons
  • Crestview Knoll
  • Dorothea Weigand Riverfront Park
  • Kingshill Park
  • Knoch Park
  • Kroehler Park
  • Yorkshire Manor Park

These locations will be monitored and soil samples will be taken to measure its health, which directly impacts turf and foliage growth and development over time. Overall costs of this initiative will be tracked. Although some costs will increase, others likely will decrease, for example, from reduced pesticide/herbicide use.

Stewardship of the environment is one of the District's core values. Using organic products and implementing environmentally sound practices has been an evolution for the District. In 2004, when staff began looking for eco-friendly fertilizers and weed control products, those on the market were costly and difficult to use. Now that more effective and economical alternatives for maintaining parks are available in quantities that the park staff can work with efficiently, the time is right for the District to increase the scope of its sustainable practices.

District-Wide Park Maintenance and Integrated Pest Management

The Naperville Park District manages over 2,400 acres of natural area and park landscapes within our urban area; 1,800 acres of this inventory is developed parkland. These areas not only provide opportunities for recreation for visitors, they also function as essential habitats for a variety of urban wildlife, insects and plants. While most plants and wildlife in our area co-exist peacefully, these habitats also include pest species that may spread out and take over the ornamental landscapes or native woodlands. Pests can be insects, plant diseases, invasive weeds, or animals and birds. Pests disrupt the natural ecology of a habitat and landscape, creating an unhealthy environment for natural plants and sometimes humans and pets. They also can cause structural damage to buildings.

In maintaining parks District-wide, staff uses many principles from Integrated Pest Management (IPM). By using IPM guidelines, our staff first identifies the pest and then determines whether or not it is impacting the park in a negative way. The actual level of impact or damage in a particular location determines whether the pest is left alone or not. Staff determines when, where and how the pest will be managed. The District's maintenance program includes all potential pest control strategies, but focuses on non-chemical controls whenever possible. This process is necessary to maintain the natural ecology and health of a landscape.

The parks IPM program includes cultural, mechanical, biological and chemical pest control methods. An example of cultural control is to plant the right plant in the right place. One type of mechanical control is hand weeding and biological control includes using insect predators or bacterial products. Chemical control includes using natural or synthetic products.

The most common pesticides used in outdoor parks are herbicides for weed control in turf, on hard surface cracks and in gravel areas and shrub beds. Fungicides are used for disease control on golf greens and on some field turf.

Park staff includes trained, knowledgeable, landscape maintenance professionals who understand the plant's cultural needs and the potential for pest impacts. Staff monitors landscape assets continuously in their daily work. Since each park facility is unique, staff is tasked with determining the appropriate limits of aesthetic and economic injury. If impact or injury is imminent and unacceptable, a specific strategy will be designed and implemented. Staff evaluates the success of the strategy over time and makes adjustments as needed for long-term successful pest suppression and management.

For more information, please call 630-848-5035. Fax: 206-615-1813

Naperville Park District Natural Areas Management

The Naperville Park District recognizes the importance of managing natural areas throughout our parks.  The Park District's goal is to restore our natural areas to sustainable native ecosystems that benefit the environment and wildlife including birds, mammals, fish, reptiles and insects.  Removing invasive species and restoring native plants to an area are essential to the ecosystem—both for the plant community and the wildlife that relies on that plant community for food and habitat.  

Natural areas generally fall into three categories:  prairie, wetland, or woodland; however, some areas have elements of more than one category. Each Park District natural area is evaluated and labeled as either a high, medium, or low quality area based on its ability to sustain itself with less maintenance, or if it will require more labor to return it to a sustainable level.  These efforts can take years of maintenance before a sustainable level is reached.

An invasive species is defined as a species that is not native to an ecosystem and whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm.  Many times these invasive species spread quickly and out-compete native plants.  Most invasive species provide little to no benefit to the ecosystem or the wildlife in the area.

Prescribed burns are one tool trained employees can use to maintain a natural area to help remove invasive species and trigger germination of natives that depend on fire as part of their life cycle.  Burning also reduces the amount of leaf and plant debris on the ground, clearing the site for native seeds to sprout and invasives to be better targeted.  Areas may be mown with a large mower to prevent invasive species from flowering and setting seed.  Mowing also allows light to reach the ground so later-germinating native plants have a chance to grow.  Native plantings can be enhanced through spreading seeds, planting plugs, or planting trees and shrubs for quicker restoration of a site.

A maintenance schedule has been created for each natural area in the district.  The schedule includes intervals of prescribed burns, mowing (if needed), spreading native seed, removing invasive species, and planting native plugs.  The amount of time spent on each assigned task will vary depending on the area's condition, size, and priority within the District.