JOLIET – In a small way, the forest is coming back to Forest Park.
The last of about a dozen new trees were planted Saturday to beautify the large park off Rosalind Avenue. The trees are part of a grant from nonprofit organization America In Bloom and a $25,000 grant from Canadian National Railroad’s EcoConnexions program.
CN’s Jim Kvedaras said trees are an easy way to reduce the carbon footprint in communities near the railroad tracks.
“I played in this park as a kid,” Forest Park Neighborhood Council President Garland Mays recalled. “There was a basketball court, one bathroom. It was neglected, but it was all we had.”
But when Mays brought his son here, the park was covered in weeds and broken glass, which prompted him and others from the neighborhood to seek improvements from the Joliet Park District.
“We wanted the quality of life that every neighborhood should have,” Mays said.
In the past two years, the land has been cleared, and new playground equipment, a walking track and picnic pavilion have been installed. Mays said bathrooms with plumbing are scheduled to be installed, and a second pavilion will be added next year.
“This park is a hidden jewel,” Joliet City Council member Bettye Gavin said. “These trees are beautiful. City Arborist Jim Teiber knows his trees, [but] I’m a cactus killer.”
Gavin noted the city also has planted three new trees in the play area next to the Forest Park Community Center.
“For the last two summers, this pavilion has been packed for birthday parties and celebrations. Everyone’s enjoying [the park],” said Mays, who plans to run for the park district board.
Saturday’s event featured a ceremonial tree planting, arts and crafts and distribution of milkweed seeds to attract monarch butterflies. Fields Nursery, ArborTech and Milano Bakery also donated supplies for the event.
Teiber said all of the trees planted last week will thrive with a fall planting, and a few more will be planted near the entryway in the spring. The park now has bald cypress, swamp white oak, state street maple, autumn blaze maple, catalpa, hybrid elm and European hornbeam.
A larger sugar maple with leaves that turn bright orange in the fall already is growing near the north end of the park.
“It’s a mixture of everything. Next fall you’ll see a lot of yellow, rust and purple-red from the new trees. [The city] has more yellows because of the ash tree problem; we’ve lost a lot of the purple and burgundies,” Teiber said.