SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — Governor Pritzker recently awarded more than $30 million in grants to 87 park projects located throughout the state, including several in central Illinois.

“Investments in our local parks are investments in our communities,” Pritzker said in a statement. “Park projects don’t just create jobs and boost local economic development — they open the gateway for a healthier, happier Illinois. Every family in our state deserves nearby access to outdoor public spaces where they can gather with their friends and neighbors — and enjoy some sunshine, too.”

The grants are meant to to help communities acquire open space and develop or improve recreational facilities. They were provided through the state’s Open Space Land Acquisition and Development (OSLAD) program; administered by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources the OSLAD program grants can provide up to one-half of a project’s funds.

Since its founding in 1987, the OSLAD program has invested more than $433.5 million to more than 1,00 park projects.

One of the parks that received a grant is Champaign County Forest Preserve District, home of the state’s first “Dark Sky Park.” It’s a place for people to enjoy the stars without light pollution, and the Forest Preserve received almost $300,000 to help improve the park’s features.

Lorrie Pearson, Executive Director of the Forest Preserve District, hopes the park will attract tourists.

“It might amaze you how excited people are for this type of project,” Pearson said. “I get an email or a call probably at least once a month from a person just traveling to the area for this park, for these dark sky amenities.”

Pearson said they will be adding a walkway and a building to protect stargazers from the elements, along with expanding the campground and the addition of a parking area. They hope to get started sometime next year.

The Springfield Park District also received a grant of $400,000. Combined with another $400,000 in Park District Capital Improvement funds, the Park District plans to redevelop Kiwanis Park with a new playground, upgraded walking path, shelter and bathroom, turn-around, sports lighting and soccer field and an expanded parking lot with 36 new spaces.

“We are extremely thankful for the support from Governor Pritzker and
IDNR to allow us the opportunity to renovate and bring new exciting recreational opportunities to Kiwanis Park,” said Park Board President Leslie Sgro.

(Photo courtesy of the Springfield Park District)

Other central Illinois parks that received a grant are:

  • Champaign County
    • Village of Fisher, Fisher Village Park redevelopment – $234,900
    • Village of Rantoul, Heritage Lake redevelopment Phase 1 – $400,000
    • Tolono Park District, West Side Park revitalization – $400,000
  • Effingham County
    • Effingham Water Authority, Lake Sara Pearson Peninsula Park development Phase II – $400,000
  • McLean County
    • Heyworth, Centennial Park playground and improvements – $64,700
  • Moultrie County
    • City of Sullivan, Wyman Park improvements – $381,800
  • Piatt County
    • Village of Atwood, COMBO-village park expansion – $15,000
  • Sangamon County
    • City of Auburn, Union Park improvements – $400,000
  • Shelby County
    • City of Shelbyville, ballfield enhancement project – $324,000
    • Village of Strasburg, park renovation – $318,000