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350 Victory Drive
Park Forest, IL 60466
Ph: 708-748-1112
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Recreation & Parks Department History

Park Forest enjoys more acreage of parks and open space per capita than most communities of its size in Illinois. The Recreation and Parks Department is responsible for more than 400 acres of park land on 22 sites with 15 tennis courts, 10 ball fields, 12 playgrounds, three major picnic pavilions, two skate parks, a dog park and more.

Maintenance of the parks is planned through the budget process. Replacement and upgrading of equipment are planned through the five-year capital plan. The population and recreational needs in Park Forest, and nationally, change from year-to-year and some facilities installed in the 1960s and 70s are now under-utilized. The Village has tried to be responsive to these trends with the addition of skate parks, basketball courts, in-line skating facilities, trails and many environmental education opportunities. At the same time, hard decisions have been made regarding certain neighborhood playgrounds, baseball fields, tennis courts and other facilities. Funding for upkeep of the Village’s recreational infrastructure is reflected by both facility improvements and some facility removal from the system. It is most important that citizens recognize that the land set aside by the Board, and the original developers of the Village, is the most important resource and will always be there for future users.

The Recreation and Parks Department operates the Park Forest Aqua Center, an award winning four-pool outdoor aquatics complex. The facility serves 65,000 to 80,000 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. Freedom Hall, built in 1976, 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. The result is increasing competition for room and theater rentals and ticket sales. Grants and sponsorships provide key financial support to the adult, senior and children’s series offered at Freedom Hall. A number of major projects have been implemented in the last several years through the Village’s annual Capital Improvements Plan. The last included replacement of the 34 year old seats in the theater which included painting of the theater floor, replacement carpeting, ADA emergency exit ramp from the theater and other cosmetic changes. Other recent changes include accessible washrooms on the main level, new energy efficient lighting in the King and Johnson Rooms and in the lobby and lounge areas. A new paint scheme and mural dedicated to the armed forces and Park Forest Veterans enhances the lobby and celebrates the inspiration behind Freedom Hall.  Since the building was constructed, the roof, HVAC units, stage floor and curtains, and entry doors have been replaced.

The department also operates a general purpose recreation facility at Forest Trail Recreation Center and programs in two rooms in the lower level of Village Hall. The “Rec Center” at Forest Trail is owned by the Village and operated through a cooperative arrangement with School District #163. Joint school/municipality (or park district) facility development is a hot topic today, but it should be known that this relationship was pioneered in Park Forest in 1958. The Village and School District #163 continues to work to keep this “shared facility” concept going in Park Forest for the benefit of the tax payers.

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 10 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.