History of the NPD
Created by referendum in 1966, the Naperville Park District is an independent municipal agency serving the recreation needs of its residents. An Illinois Distinguished Agency since 1994, the District is one of only 1% of park districts across the country to be nationally accredited through the Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies (CAPRA). The Naperville Park District’s mission is to provide recreation and park experiences that promote healthy lives, healthy minds and a healthy community.
The District maintains and operates more than 2,400 acres with 136 parks and facilities and provides more than 1,500 recreational, arts and environmental programs and special events annually. Included within the District’s operations are two championship golf courses, a multitude of playgrounds, trails, athletic courts and sports fields, Fort Hill Activity Center, Knoch Knolls Nature Center, two inline skating and skateboarding facilities, the Millennium Carillon, the Paddleboat Quarry, historic Centennial Beach, and the beautiful Riverwalk.
Highlights from the History of the Naperville Park District
A park study committee chaired by Dr. Robert Steunenberg began looking into forming a park district as a means to preserve open space and focus attention on recreation needs. As President of the Naperville Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Carleton Nadelhoffer helped make the Naperville Park District a reality by building community support for the referendum that would pass in 1966.
The Barn was constructed by the Youth Organization, Inc. – a nonprofit community organization concerned with providing a place for teen programs.
On December 17 a referendum passed to create the Naperville Park District. The population of Naperville was approximately 18,000; the first Board of Park Commissioners included the following members, as pictured in the photo:
Seated, left to right: Harold Cromer, Lester Schloerb and Dorothea Weigand; Standing, left to right: George Yenerich and William Martin. Photo taken in 1970
The Park District began its first year of recreational programming, with 31 programs and 3,000 participants.
The District’s first Master Plan was adopted, with the main objectives of acquiring open space and facilities.
The District purchased the Fraley Farm as the future site of Springbrook Golf Course with a matching grant from Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The Park District began leasing and operating the Martin-Mitchell Museum and the Century Memorial Chapel.
The Park District assumed responsibility for Centennial Beach, acquired the Barn and Knoch Park, and began leasing several properties from the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, including Goodrich Woods, Burlington Park, and Pioneer Park.
The Park District offered 235 programs.
The first garden plots (55 plots) were provided at the Fraley Outdoor Recreation Area at the future site of Springbrook Golf Course.
The District added administrative offices and maintenance garages to the Barn.
The second Naperville Park District Master Plan was created by eight committees: Beach and Swimming, Land Needs, Conservation, Golf Course, Ice Rink, Historical Complex, Park-School Facilities, and Tennis.
The land dedication ordinance passed, requiring developers to donate 5.5 acres per 1,000 residents (or the equivalent cash donation) for parks. Between 1972 and 2013, the Naperville Park District acquired over 1,000 acres of park land through this ordinance and through the amended ordinance of 2001 which increased the required donation to 8.6 acres/1,000.
The Naperville Park District won the National Gold Medal, awarded by the National Recreation and Park Association.
New park land acquired with assistance from a $373,239 Land and Water Conservation Fund grant included East Greens, Gartner Park, Winding Creek Park, Nike Sports Complex, and additional land at Pioneer Park.
Springbrook Golf Course opened on the 170-acre Fraley farm site. The District acquired 272 acres at DuPage River Park and DuPage River Sports Complex with support from a $684,449 Land and Water Conservation Fund grant.
The Naperville Park District joined Wheaton, Glen Ellyn and West Chicago Park Districts in creating the Western DuPage Special Recreation Association (WDSRA).
With a population of 36,000, the District’s total acres of parkland reached 621 acres.
Centennial Beach renovations included an improved circulation system and entrance/parking lot.
Naperville was ranked #1 as a “kid-friendly city” by Zero Population Growth, an independent Washington D.C. based organization.
The Park District turned over the operations of the Martin Mitchell Museum to the City for development of Naper Settlement as an historic village.
The Park District acquired 115 acres of land to form Knoch Knolls Park. The Knoch family who formerly owned the land donated 13 acres and the District purchased the remaining land with support from a Land and Water Conservation Fund grant of $750,000.
The Riverwalk was developed with the assistance of many community volunteers and donors as part of the Naperville Sesquicentennial celebration.
Centennial Beach celebrated its 50th anniversary.
Halloween Happening began as an alternative to trick-or-treating in the wake of the Tylenol scare of 1982. The event has grown over the years into a favorite community activity with attendance of more than 3,000.
The Park District Administration Building opened at 320 W. Jackson Ave. and the former administrative offices at the Barn were converted to preschool classrooms.
At this time, the Park District managed a total of 880 acres of park land and 68 parks, with a staff of 33 full-time employees and 400 part-time/seasonal employees.
Ribfest began at Knoch Park.
Springbrook Golf Course added a Clubhouse.
Naperbrook Golf Course opened.
The Naperville Park District began leasing the Alfred Rubin Riverwalk Community Center for senior activities and other community events and programs. The building was the former site of the Naperville Electrical Department.
Naperville Park District became an Illinois Distinguished Agency through the Illinois Association of Park Districts and Illinois Parks and Recreation Association, a distinction that the District has maintained since that time.
The Concert Dance Ensemble, now known as Élan Dance Company, was founded by Michelle Plescia, former dance instructor at the Naperville Park District.
DuPage River Trail began with a tri-party intergovernmental agreement among the Naperville Park District, the City of Naperville and the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County.
Phase I of the Naperville Millennium Carillon in Moser Tower was built as part of Naperville’s Millennium celebration.
The Naperville Park District Youth Ambassadors began as an advisory group of high school students who plan fun, positive activities for teens through the Park District.
Park District awarded OSLAD grant for $400,000 for phase one development of Frontier Sports Complex, beginning 15 years of park development with the assistance of a series of OSLAD grants and other funding. Other parks developed or redeveloped between 2001 and 2013 with grant funding include: Commissioners Park, Country Lakes Park, Winding Creek Park, Knoch Park, Seager Park, Meadow Glens Park, and Knoch Knolls Park.
Theatre at the Knolls opened at Knoch Knolls Park, offering a Ravinia-like experience under the trees and featuring Kimi Hayes concerts and Shakespeare’s plays performed by the Midsummer Theatre Troupe.
Park District won the Illinois Governor’s Tomorrow Award for its 2001 Master Plan.
Santa House opened on the Riverwalk.
The District also was selected as a Finalist for the National Gold Medal Award.
The first season of Concerts in Your Park was a success, bringing music to neighborhood parks throughout the District.
Centennial Skate Park was completed and dedicated after months of planning with the assistance of a community review team.
The Carillon Visitor Center opened and Carillon tours began.
The Naperville Park District’s first cricket pitch opened at Commissioners Park, resulting in the formation of the only known park district cricket league.
The Naperville Park District hosted the first community’s first Healing Field of Honor at Rotary Hill in partnership with community leaders and the National Healing Field Foundation.
A 20-acre expansion of Nike Sports Complex was completed, featuring the District’s first synthetic turf athletic field, 8 tennis courts, multi-purpose fields, a playground, basketball courts, and the Book Pavilion.
Centennial Beach re-opened after renovations to the Bathhouse, front entry and parking area, and the addition of Centennial Grill and an ADA lift.Seager Park Interpretive Center opened, along with park improvements, including a loop trail, basketball courts, a fire ring, and a permeable paver parking lot. The project was partially funded by grants from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and DuPage County Water Quality Grant Program.
The Naperville Park District became one of only two Illinois Park Districts to achieve national accreditation through the National Recreation and Park Association.
The Naperville Park District achieved state accreditation, upgrading its Distinguished Agency status to Illinois Distinguished Accreditation.
The 95th Street Center opened as the District’s first south Naperville location for indoor programs, featuring a six-station culinary teaching kitchen, a wood floor studio, a registration desk, and multi-purpose rooms
The Naperville Park District updated its 3-year Strategic Plan, based on its 2012 Master Plan and the 2012 Community Survey, and is ready to continue in its mission to enhance the quality of life for our community.A herd of 43 goats cleared 10 acres of invasive weeds from Knoch Knolls Park to make way for the expansion of the disc golf course.
Meadow Glens Park reopened with new amenities partially funded by a $400,000 OSLAD grant, including a loop trail with fitness stations, a nature playground, basketball courts, a picnic shelter and a winter skating area.
The Park District acquired 5.2 acres of land at Quincy Ave. and Fort Hill Drive to be the site of a future activity center.
Knoch Knolls Nature Center opened Oct. 2, winning multiple awards for design and sustainability.
After one of the coldest, snowiest winters on record, the Park District held its first Spring Fever Reliever, a free event for the community.
Sportsman’s Park re-opened after extensive site remediation and park improvements, restoring acres of natural area for public use and preserving the unique, historic trapshooting facility.
Knoch Knolls Disc Golf Course re-opened after an expansion from 9 to 18 holes.
Naperville Park Police began promoting “Share the Trail” as a bicycle and pedestrian safety campaign.
A groundbreaking ceremony was held on April 9 for the Fort Hill Activity Center.
Park District staff assembled an amazing replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall, donated by a local business, Blooming Color, as part of the 2015 Healing Field of Honor on Rotary Hill.
The Park District celebrated its 50th anniversary throughout the year. The District was created by referendum on Dec. 17, 1966.
Hundreds of people gathered for a farewell event on June 4 to remember the Barn, which originally was built by volunteers as a youth center. The Barn was taken down along with the adjacent maintenance shed following Ribfest. The recreation activities held at the Barn were relocated to the new Fort Hill Activity Center and the Alfred Rubin Riverwalk Community Center.
Construction began on a new park maintenance facility at Knoch Park.
Fort Hill Activity Center welcomed hundreds of visitors to its grand opening celebration on August 27 and is now open for use 7 days a week. NCTV presented a video history of the Naperville Park District, as part of the grand opening festivities.
The District renewed its national accreditation through CAPRA
The new Knoch Park Central Maintenance Facility opened with a public grand opening celebration on June 17.
Knoch Knolls Nature Center hosted the first annual Monarch Festival on Sept. 17, with more than 700 participants attending.
A site master plan was approved for Wolf's Crossing Community Park - the District's largest remaining undeveloped park.
The District installed its first four dedicated pickleball courts at Nike Sports Complex.
The District launched ParkTalk podcast as a new way to connect with the community.
Construction began on three large projects: Wolf’s Crossing Community Park, the 95th Street Community Plaza and renovations at Knoch Park. A new wood floor studio was added to Fort Hill Activity Center to help accommodate the growing interest in group exercise classes.
In the midst of a pandemic, the Park District was able to complete three major capital projects. The 95th Street Community Plaza opened in July, with the District's first splashpad, a storybook themed playground, the Wagner Family Pavilion, restrooms, walkways and seating areas.
The Knoch Park improvements were completed in September, and included a renovated varsity girls' softball field in collaboration with Naperville Community Unit School District 203, a synthetic turf field and pickleball courts.
Wolf's Crossing Community Park opened most amenities to the public in October, including the District's first challenge course, a playground, sports courts, a loop trail and more.