The Forest Preserve District's Board of Commissioners voted October 14 to acquire the Hidden Oaks Nature Center and Hidden Lakes Historic Trout Farm site in Bolingbrook.
If the Bolingbrook Park District Board also approves the sale on November 18, the Forest Preserve would take ownership on January 1.
The 30-acre parcel is located immediately south of the Forest Preserve’s 249-acre Whalon Lake preserve. A DuPage River trail bridge, completed in 2015, connects the two sites.
Preservation and public use
“Purchasing the Hidden Oaks Nature Center allows the Forest Preserve to expand its nature education and recreational programming into the communities of Bolingbrook and Naperville,” said Ralph Schultz, the Forest Preserve District’s executive director.
“When combined, the Hidden Oaks Nature Center, Hidden Lakes Trout Farm, Whalon Lake preserve and the DuPage River Trail will provide dozens of program opportunities,” Schultz added. “Almost all our programs and events are free to the public and we’re thrilled at the chance to bring additional programming closer to home for the residents of Bolingbrook and surrounding communities.”
The Park District was looking for ways to reduce long-term bond and interest debt in 2020 when the idea of approaching the Forest Preserve was proposed, said Park District Executive Director Ron Oestreich. The sale of the site would guarantee that Hidden Oaks and Hidden Lakes will be preserved and kept open for public use by a larger organization that has more resources and is expert in environmental education and conservation, he explained.
“Bolingbrook Park District is excited to be working with the Forest Preserve District of Will County on this transfer of property,” Oestreich added. “There are so many benefits of this for our community. We know the Forest Preserve will take what we started and enhance it for our residents for years to come!”
Reducing the Park District’s debt and operation expenses will allow the streamlined organization to focus on areas in which it excels, he added.
Transition in 2022
If the Park District approves the sale, Hidden Lakes would reopen on April 1 and Hidden Oaks would reopen on July 1. A preschool that takes place in the nature center would be allowed to continue through May to close out the program for the year.
Hidden Lakes consists of four fishing ponds, which are adjacent to the east branch of the DuPage River, and a portion of the DuPage River Trail.
Hidden Oaks Nature Center is around 7,000 square feet. It serves as a central access area to the local and regional trail systems and it features a large pavilion with a fireplace, an outdoor amphitheater, a bait shop, a green roof and historical and nature exhibits.
The purchase price approved by the Forest Preserve Board is $2.7 million, payable in three installments starting at the end of this year. The money will come from the Forest Preserve’s reserve fund.
Lynn Kurczewski, the Forest Preserve’s director of visitor services, said if the acquisition is approved by the Park Board and the sale goes through, the Forest Preserve would construct a new bait shop and reconfigure the interior space at Hidden Oaks to include a larger exhibit gallery, a new reception area and a larger rental space upstairs. The site also would get additional parking, new signage, an expanded trail system and new campus exhibits.
The combined sites of Whalon Lake, Hidden Lake and Hidden Oaks would be able to offer a wide variety of family programs and rental packages, Kurczewski added.
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