The Brookfield Conservation Commission has sought the help of the National Park Service in furthering its goal of transforming South Kiwanis Park into a sustainable nature area accessible to all residents.

In February, the commission submitted an application to the National Park Service to receive technical help from its Riverside, Trails & Conservation Assistance Program to help with community outreach, long-term planning and trail design in the wooded park.

South Kiwanis Park is a roughly 15-acre parcel of wooded park land owned by the village of Brookfield immediately south of the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad tracks, bounded on the east by Arden Avenue, on the west by Salt Creek and on the south by Southview Avenue.

In recent years, Conservation Commission members and other volunteers have devoted many hours to clearing the park of invasive buckthorn, which has revealed an oak savanna habitat similar to the one at the north end of Kiwanis Park on the other side of the BNSF tracks.

That buckthorn removal work has opened up the woodland to people who want to enjoy the secluded nature area, with its mature shade trees, native woodland flora and wildlife, ephemeral pools filled with flood waters in hollows near the riverbank and natural overlooks.

“We think we’ve cleared about one-third of the site of buckthorn,” said Conservation Commission Chairwoman Bridget Jakubiak, who called out the efforts of volunteer Larry Pulice, who has spearheaded that effort. “We’ve gotten to a point where we need to begin the restoration piece.”

In January, commissioners heard from Mike Mencarini, a community planner from the National Park Service, about the technical assistance program. He outlined the formal application for technical assistance, but also told commissioners that the commission may also be able to leverage National Park Service assistance more informally as well.

“He really encouraged us to, if not fill out the full application, at least ask for some other technical assistance that’s rolling and a little less committed over a longer period of time, where they can come out and give some initial guidance,” said Brookfield Trustee Katie Kaluzny, who is the village board’s liaison to the Conservation Commission.

“We felt like because there was so much interest and previous mention of this area and plans for Brookfield, and all of the restoration work that’s been going on, that it was at a place where we really just need that additional assistance to figure out how to make it a real activated space,” Kaluzny added.

The Conservation Commission would like to tap into the National Park Service’s expertise to convene at least two public listening sessions, with both the South Hollywood community, where the woodland is located, and the wider community to get feedback and input.

They’d also like the National Park Service’s expertise in developing a trail plan, locations for nature play areas, interpretive signage and benches. That plan can then be shared with the community and phased in over time within budgetary limits. The village likely would use such a plan to seek grant funding to implement it.

“We’d like to really have a really robust public engagement process. People have seen what we’ve done with the site and what we’re doing there,” Jakubiak said. “Now there are questions. What’s next? We want a plan we can share with them. We’re asking the Park Service to do that and get their input on that.”

Commissioners won’t have to wait long to find out if the National Park Service is interested. According to Jakubiak and Kaluzny, the agency is expected to announce its technical assistance awards in early April.