Park District Benefits Abound. Are You Getting All of Yours?

December 14, 2022

There is no better place to spend time with your family, friends and neighbors than at your Park District. We are honored to be part of this vibrant community providing heathy recreational outlets and expansive outdoor spaces. We strive to remain your go-to-place for classes, special programs, and events. Our teachers, instructors and coaches, along with the front desk staff at each facility, do their best to get to know you and be part of your world.

The Park District provides a wealth of other benefits to Highland Park and nearby communities.

Here are just a few of the ways that you, your family, your friends and neighbors are connected to us that you might not think about. We’re proud to provide them all. As Parks & Recreation professionals, it’s a large part of what we do every day.

Take a deep breath.

We have 45 parks and hundreds of acres of open space where everyone can breathe fresh air, walk on paths through lovely natural areas, enjoy beautiful amenities including public art, and of course there are lots of playgrounds for kids. We’ve planned and created these spaces so that almost every family lives within a 10-minute walk of a park. Equal access is something we’ve championed for many years, and we continue those efforts with every park and playground update we do.

“We spend many months holding listening sessions and talking with the residents who live near a park whenever we plan a renovation, so we can understand exactly how they use the space now and what their view for the future is”, says Amalia Schwartz, the Park District’s Planning and Projects Manager. That connection means families and kids get what they want, and what they need for recreation close to home.

A healthier you, indoors and out.

Nearly 40 years of research evidence confirms that nearby nature, including parks, gardens, the urban forest and green spaces, support human health and wellness. The research about active living and opportunities to avoid chronic diseases (such as diabetes, heart disease and respiratory problems) is particularly relevant to large parks… But, equally as important is the role of small parks and nature spaces for health.1 (Read more here and here.)

The open spaces we maintain are thoughtfully designed for healthy physical activities, like biking, running, walking, and playing games. They also provide quiet places, created so you can sit, read, watch the abundance of nature, and ease out of the daily tension that can overwhelm any of us. The stress of the past two years has reinforced how critical it is for all of us to look after our mental and emotional health. Parks and green spaces offer everyone a place to relax and reconnect with the simple joys around us.

“Participation in recreation and leisure is one of the most essential and accessible forms of preventative health care available”, said Executive Director, Brian Romes, adding “If your doctor said ‘I have this pill you can take that will help you manage stress better, make your mind sharper and body stronger,  protect your heart and body from disease, increase your confidence, focus and overall well-being, while also connecting you with new friends’, would you take it? Of course you would! That’s the Park District.”  If you’re looking for a park, or a particular amenity, they are all listed on this Interactive Map.

The Recreation Center of Highland Park provides another way for you to stay healthy, year-round. Our wide variety of classes and dedicated instructors can help you create a personal, complete workout routine to build strength and stamina, lose weight, and develop a healthy lifestyle. State-of-the-art equipment in a large, open space, individualized instruction, and a friendly atmosphere where you can socialize with your friends combine to make this a truly unique facility, and all are welcome. Read more here.

We specialize in special events.

One of the things we love most is bringing the community together, for a couple of hours or a whole day, so that everyone can enjoy being a part of something unique. Something wonderful.

Something that gets families and friends talking, laughing, and meeting new people. Our recent Día de los Muertos event was a spectacular celebration of culture that brought people from miles around to dance and sing, eat and play, look and see and learn about a holiday that’s been part of people’s lives for more than 3,000 years. It was an emotional day for so many who came, and we’re happy that it will now be an annual event, along with many more that are produced at Heller Nature Center, West Ridge, The Preserve, and our other parks & facilities.

Be sure to bookmark the Calendar of Events and check it often. On Sunday, February 19, Canadian pianist Winston Choi makes his debut with the Strings in a performance of George Gershwin’s iconic “Rhapsody in Blue” at our Annual Benefit concert. It takes place in the intimate and acoustically perfect Bennett-Gordon Hall at Ravinia. If you haven’t had the pleasure of hearing this fine orchestra, you can enjoy listening to them perform a delightful bit of Beethoven here.

We value your property.

When a family moves into the Highland Park community, one of the most important things they look for is the availability of nearby parks and recreation areas. That’s us. We work here, and we live here, so we know how the quality of our facilities, parks, open spaces, and of course the lakefront, impacts the decision to move here. What we provide increases property values, and we’re keenly aware of how important that is to you. It’s not a daily topic of conversation, like how much your kids love their preschool teacher or their soccer coach, but it’s important, nonetheless.

It’s why we talk to you whenever we’re planning a major renovation—like the Sunset Woods Park, and Sunset Valley Golf Club. When we designed the Interpretive Center at Rosewood Beach, and now as we build the new Park Avenue Breakwater, we’ve gathered your input and looked to you for guidance. Our GreenPrint 2024 Community Vision, the Lakefront Master Plan, and our Athletic Field Master Plan are not only critical to the growth and long-term health of the Park District, they are good for home values all across the community.

Inclusive means equal access.

We believe everyone in our community should have access to Park District programs regardless of their family’s financial situation. For 30 years, SMILE grants have made it possible for thousands of residents to participate in camps, sports, lessons, and fitness programs. In the last year alone, $100,000 in grants were awarded to over 85 Highland Park families, all made possible by generous donations. Read about how you can be a part of this important program.

Inclusive also means helping our neighbors in Highwood to enjoy the benefits of the Park District. There’s no physical boundary between Highland Park and Highwood. But the Park District, as a government agency, is restricted from offering resident rate discounts and scholarship funds to Highwood residents. Parks Foundation President, Rafael Labrador, calls it “Bureaucracy vs. Community.”

In 2018, to address this inequity, the Parks Foundation of Highland Park created a new program: the Foundation Youth Initiative (FYI). With the help of grant support from the Highland Park Community Foundation beginning in 2019, the Parks Foundation was able to expand their FYI, which now supports the successful Paddlers Learn to Swim Program by offering free swim instruction to young children, predominantly Highwood residents. Why? Because Swim Lessons Save Lives. That grant, along with other generous donations helps the Parks Foundation fulfill its mission of ensuring equal access to quality athletic instruction, year-round outdoor activities, and other social and recreational opportunities for all community members.

“Community is the people you see on the street and in the stores”, says Labrador. “Borders don’t exist for the kids, for my kids, who all attend the same schools and want to enjoy the recreational opportunities at the Park District with their friends.”

The Park District is planning ways to create more programs that will provide equal access to recreation and education. We’re working on ideas for a Dual-Language Summer Camp and including Spanish in some of our preschool lessons. Research suggests that second language acquisition skills peak around the age of 6 or 7, although that ability certainly may continue through ages 12–13.

Brian Romes added, “The Park District is a place where you can learn new things and build practical lifelong skills in a fun, low stress, encouraging environment. Our dual-language initiatives would work both ways, helping English speakers and native Spanish speakers to communicate easily with each other, which leads to a greater understanding of everyone in the community.” We’re interested in your thoughts. Please reach out to us.

Be curious. Be rewarded.

Take a few moments to search our website. You’ll find hundreds of classes, programs and events created to inspire, enlighten, and enhance your life. Ways you can start and expand your journey to a healthier, happier you. For kids, teens, adults and families, the benefits of being an active part of the Park District community are endless. Spread the word!

1 Wolf, Kathleen L., Ph.D. The Health Benefits of Small Parks and Green Spaces. Parks & Recreation Magazine, April, 2017.