To the Editor:
We’ve followed recent Herald articles and letters about the sometimes-challenging relations between Hyde Parkers and their parks. The Stout Park Park Advisory Council [PAC] has a more positive tale to relate. One important lesson: “what a difference a PAC can make.” We’re happy, certainly, with what our PAC has accomplished. But our biggest impact is just being in place! We can talk to the rather dauntingly-sized institution that is responsible for our park—the Chicago Park District [CPD], and they listen. And we give the CPD someone to talk to in return. Both sides benefit.
Stout Park interrupts 54th Place between Greenwood and Ellis. Small, it’s main “feature” is a splendid sledding hill. It’s a popular dog-friendly park with well-used playing field and play lots. But for years it has functioned more “off the radar” than “on.” Things changed—for us and for other small parks—because the Hyde Park/Kenwood Community Conference [HPKCC] decided that even the city’s smallest parks needed their own advocates. They sent out PAC “missionaries”—namely Louise McCurry and Gary Ossewaarde to organize and incubate small-park PACs across the neighborhood.
Stout Park’s Park Advisory Council [PAC] was organized just over a year ago as part of the first wave of HPKCC’s evangelical efforts. We’ve had a busy and productive first year, indeed. We first compiled a log of more than 50 tasks that needed to be done in the park, from minor repairs to capital tasks. One major issue was that Stout Park trees were in a state of crisis, many of them hit with ash-bore disease. The PAC identified 15 trees that needed to be removed. We lobbied the Park District to further assess the problem. Michael Brown and his staff at CPD increased the removal list to 30 trees—more than a third of our inventory. Barbara Woods quickly committed CPD resources to remove our dead and dying trees, work with the PAC on a replanting plan, and get new trees in the ground by spring of 2016. Stout Park has more than 20 new trees and Barb has promised to augment the new shade trees with several ornamentals next season.
Stout Park’s tired play lots certainly needed attention, too. Soon after the PAC was organized, Maria Stone at the CPD informed us that Stout was “on the list” to get new playgrounds. We worked with Maria and the alderman’s office to chose a design for the new play lots. Then we waited. Boy, was it worth the wait! We understood we would get new equipment. But we got so much more. The retaining walls of the play lots were repaired. Benches were repaired and replaced. Very distressed asphalt walkways were replaced with beautiful new cement walks. The two corners of the east side of the park have been transformed.
So we’ve whittled 30 tasks from our “to do list.” We’re got many to thank for these very impressive accomplishments:
- Many Park District Staff: Nikki Peters and her colleagues at the Nichols Park Field House have supported the PAC since the beginning. Michael Brown, Barb Woods, and Maria Stone were the most involved with Stout’s major initiatives this year. But many other Park District staff have monitored and supported our work as well. Thanks to you all.
- HPKCC: George Rumsey “deputized” Louise McCurry and Gary Ossewaarde to organize and incubate PACs like Stout Park’s. Louise and Gary have been to almost all of our monthly meetings for more than a year. They’ve provided encouragement and support and insider knowledge about how to make things happen. They’re moving on to incubate NEW PACs now. George, thank you for your tactical advice as well. And for HPKCC’s commitment to growing neighborhood PACs.
- Stout Park PAC Board Members and Volunteers: The board of the Stout Park PAC has shared its work with a cluster of neighborhood residents who’ve regularly joined our meetings—Richard Barnard, Timothy Patrick-Miller, Pat Swanson, and Timothy Thurlow. Others volunteered for clean up days and helped review play lot designs and provided valuable support and feed back to the work of the PAC . Thank you all.
The Chicago Park District is a big operation. They will never deliver the “retail”-level responsiveness some would like. But when they have someone to communicate with, they do!
We’ve all been impressed by how responsive the Park District has been to the needs of such a small park with such an annoyingly persistent PAC.
Stout Park PAC
Kenneth A. East, President
France Vandervoort, Vice President
Leslie Judge, Secretary