Sportsmanlike conduct welcome

Jim Monk, of Naperville, fires a shot in the snow at Naperville Sportsman's Club as Jim Chakour, back, of Naperville, waits for his turn on Thursday, January 12, 2011. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media
Jim Monk, of Naperville, fires a shot in the snow at Naperville Sportsman's Club as Jim Chakour, back, of Naperville, waits for his turn on Thursday, January 12, 2011. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media

Sportsman’s Park is getting the lead out. Now its operators aim to get more people in.

The second phase of a $5 million overhaul at the 27-acre downtown Naperville park is poised to begin. When it’s finished, the gates will open wide to a population well beyond the sport shooting enthusiasts who have always comprised its patron base.

Parks officials have been working for nearly three years to meet an order from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to remove lead that built up in the soil over several decades of trapshooting in 17 acres of the park, which sits southwest of Oswego Road and West Street on land the district leases from the city.

“At this time next year, and probably much earlier than this, that whole area will be open and we’ll have a no more remediation letter from the EPA,” Ray McGury, the Park District’s executive director, said Thursday, alluding to the clearance needed from the state to cease the cleanup effort.

That would amount to a go-ahead for making the site a full community asset — with the trap range operating on Sunday afternoons and Thursday evenings, as it does now.

“That 17 acres of land out there is a wonderful piece of property,” McGury said. “My goal was always to open that to everybody, and the only way you can do that is to clean it up.”

Money issues

With construction bid documents not planned for release until about a month from now, the park development plans are tentative. The expense for upgrading the site is expected to come in under $1 million, McGury said.

He and his staff envision the project’s scope including an updated clubhouse, permeable pavers, a new driveway and walking paths.

“All of that kind of adds up, as you’re doing the earth work,” he said.

The lead removal costs will come in under budget, he said, which will enhance the funds available for the other undertakings. There is also cause for optimism, McGury said, in the availability of tradespeople who are currently unemployed and presumably willing to work at competitive rates.

He also is hopeful that the park makeover will create places to float a bobber or two.

“We’ve got two ponds. We would love to stock them with fish,” he said.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources requires fishing holes to be at least nine to 10 feet deep, about twice what they are now. That means a substantial dredging task.

“It’s going to become a money issue,” McGury said. “How much do we need to take out of there to enable people to fish there?”

The park was closed to all visitors for more than two years, beginning in 1998, while its operation was in court limbo.

A neighbor of the park, the late Roger E. Stone, sued the Park District, the city and the Sportsman’s Club, whose members use the practice range, over the potential hazard posed by the lead, an established groundwater pollutant. The district was permitted to reopen the park in early 2001, but only after agreeing to require shooters to use steel ammunition rather than lead, to check lead levels in the water on the site, and to obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit from the state EPA.

Cultural virtues

McGury argued recently that the park warrants some investment by the city, when he went before the Cultural Advisory Commission, seeking a substantial sum to cover the upgrades.

Framing the city and the recreation agency as stewardship partners for Sportsman’s, McGury requested $574,000 of the $2 million available this year for Special Events and Cultural Amenities grants. The program is funded by revenue raised through the city’s food and beverage tax.

In a Feb. 22 public hearing before the commission, McGury maintained that the park has always seemed to be for “a select few,” who have been valuable supporters of local businesses, but a small group of park users just the same.

“What our project’s going to do is open this up to everybody,” he said, itemizing some of the redevelopment plans. “This is a huge deal for the whole community.”

Commission members were reluctant to support the amount of the request, some questioning the cultural merit of the plan.

“We’re trying to figure out why we can justify giving a quarter of the money to just one project,” Julie Lichter said.

McGury later said he wasn’t surprised to be turned down, though he’d hoped for some help with the redevelopment expenses, noting that SECA funds have been used to support the Millennium Carillon bell tower in the past. He said Sportsman’s Park, and especially the land on which it sits, deserve consideration as well.

“It is a cultural amenity,” he said, evoking the name of the early city resident whose stately mansion now anchors Naper Settlement. “It is something that was part of the Caroline Martin Mitchell gift to the community.”

Commission members made it clear they don’t see the park upgrades as a bad thing. Chairwoman Becky Anderson wasn’t dismissive of the positive impact the new piece of public open space will have on the city.

“I think it looks absolutely brilliant,” she said. “And it’s what we need.”