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Take A Closer Look: Heroes of the Parks

Within a short few hours after the last team has left the field, when the evening dog walkers are already headed for home from a quick jaunt in the park and the remaining stray swimmers have toweled off and are filing out of Hidden Creek AquaPark, the real work begins.

“A Closer Look” is a quarterly article within the seasonal brochure focused on getting to know the people who work, live, and play at the Park District of Highland Park.


Heroes of the Parks

In the wee morning hours, they begin arriving at the 70-year-old parks building located just south of the Sunset Valley Golf Course clubhouse to make ready for the work day ahead. It happens 365 days of the year. Few see it begin, except perhaps for some early morning joggers and few white tailed deer.

Welcome to a behind the scenes look at the dedicated parks services crew that keeps +700-acres of Park District land, including 44 parks and seven facilities humming.

Hours before the camp counselors, teachers and lifeguards arrive, parks workers have already put in several hours to ensure that the District is ready for another busy day. “May and June are the busiest time for our crews,” says Dan Voss, Director of Parks Services. “We are in full swing preparing for the summer season opening of the Park Avenue boating facility, Rosewood Beach and Hidden Creek AquaPark; prepping ten ball fields and ten soccer fields; and sprucing up the facilities with annual plantings, mulching, tree trimming and grounds clean-up.”

During those two months, the crew’s numbers ramp up from 26 to 47 workers including electricians, grounds keepers, carpenters and mechanics to handle the heavy summer workload to ensure the parks and facilities are clean and safe.

The regular day-to-day jobs have to get done too. The district’s most active parks – Rosewood Beach, Larry Fink Memorial Park, Sunset Woods and Danny Cunniff have a dedicated staff member assigned to keep the park maintained every day. A typical morning includes opening and cleaning the park bathrooms (29 park bathrooms in all and cleaned daily!), doing the garbage route, cleaning tennis courts, fixing nets, cleaning ball field bleachers and the play area grounds. The afternoons are dedicated to mowing, weeding and trimming. Because the District does not use pesticides, weeding in the parks and around the facilities is done by hand.

29 park bathrooms are cleaned daily
36 park water fountains maintained
24 annual flower beds planted and maintained
100 miles of striping laid down on the sports fields from April – mid June
26 playgrounds are inspected monthly

Throughout the day other crews come into the parks to dress & stripe ball fields or inspect the playground equipment. All the district’s playground equipment is inspected monthly by an on-staff trained and certified playground inspector. The inspector looks for wear and tear on the equipment and potential safety hazards. Anything that is found, such as a loose bolt or wobbly handrail is escalated for immediate repair.

Meanwhile, each new day brings a new “to do list” that is handled by staff trained in other specific fields for fixing equipment, installing cabinetry, painting handrails, fixing lights, etc. Though it would be impossible for the District to keep count of how many visitors use our facilities and parks every day, it is estimated to be over ten thousand. Close to 4,000 children attend summer camps and participate in athletics programs alone. That heavy use requires constant repair and maintenance provided by the parks crews.

“It takes a special person to work in the field of parks services,” says Voss. “You need to have a passion for working outside, getting your hands dirty and enjoying the satisfaction of making something look better.” Voss himself is has been in the department for 20 years moving up the ranks to his current position.

“We truly have one of the most dedicated parks crews in Illinois,” continues Voss. “More than half of our full time staff has been here for over ten years and one of our staff members has been here for over 40 years. It is hard manual work, but at the end of the day we are proud of the work we do… keeping our parks beautiful.”

The Park District is breaking ground this year on a new centralized Parks and Golf Operations Center to be located at the current site of district’s golf maintenance building (1240 Fredrickson) on the west side of the Sunset Valley Golf Course. The new facility will replace both the golf maintenance facility and the District’s parks maintenance Facility located south of the Sunset Valley clubhouse. Both facilities are inefficient and inadequate for the current and future needs of the Park District and Sunset Valley. For more information and updates on the project click here.