Recreation & Parks Department History
Park Forest owns or manages 1,688 acres of parks, woods and open land, affording an impressive 76.5 acres per 1,000 residents; more acres of parks and open space per capita than most communities of its size in Illinois. The Recreation & Parks Department is responsible for more than 380 acres of park and open lands with 17 dedicated parks, 7 active tennis courts, 10 ball fields, 12 playgrounds, four major picnic pavilions, two skate parks, a Rail Fan Park, a dog park and more.
The Recreation and Parks Department, in a public private partnership with Jeff Ellis Management operates the Park Forest Aqua Center, an award winning four-pool outdoor aquatics complex. The facility serves 50,000 to 60,000 bathers annually. The facility was acquired by the Village in the spring of 1983 when the nonprofit owner announced it would be closed. The Aqua Center is operated out of a separate fund (Aqua Center Fund). In 2010, the department completed a major renovation of the bathhouse building which incorporated a new environmental classroom named the “Wetland Discovery Center” to support educational programs focused on the nearby Central Park Wetlands as well as numerous other green initiatives such as solar water heating, new skylights, a rain garden and water-saving plumbing fixtures. This new facility has supported environmental education activities and classes at Central Park Wetlands serving as many as 2,000 children annually.
The Recreation and Parks Department also operates the Park Forest Tennis and Health Club, a six-court facility with exercise equipment and full range of instruction programs. The facility was acquired in 1984 from a private operator. In addition to indoor tennis, an extensive outdoor tennis instructional program is operated under the auspices of the Club during the summer months. This facility is also operated out of a separate fund (Tennis & Health Club Fund).
The Recreation and Parks Department operates Freedom Hall, a meeting and cultural arts facility. Freedom Hall contains a 280-seat theater and meeting rooms. Built in 1976, Freedom Hall is one of the first cultural arts facilities operated by a municipality in the Chicagoland region. In recent years, numerous municipalities, park districts, and educational institutions have developed similar facilities. Grants and sponsorships provide key financial support to the adult, matinee and children’s series offered at Freedom Hall. Recent improvements to the facility include new theater seats, carpeting and energy efficient lighting. Other recent changes include a new paint scheme and mural dedicated to the armed forces and Park Forest Veterans, enhancing the lobby and celebrating the inspiration behind Freedom Hall.
The department also operates the Recreation Center at Michelle Obama, a general purpose recreation facility, as well as hosting programs and rentals in the Lower Level Multi-Purpose Rooms at Village Hall. The Recreation Center at Michelle Obama features a full-length basketball court, retractable bleachers, a recreation room with arcade style games, pool tables and a kitchen. The Lower Level Multi-Purpose Rooms at Village Hall are the perfect space for dance rehearsals, meetings, baby showers and other small gatherings.
The mature urban forest in parks and parkways throughout the Village is one of the most common and noticeable positives about Park Forest. For over 20 years, the Village has made a concerted effort to maintain this valuable resource. Significant progress has been made on implementation of the urban forestry goal of routine tree care and maintaining a sustainable urban forest. These efforts have consistently garnered the Village “Tree City USA” status.