Village funds sought to improve Oak Savanna

? Brookfield's Conservation Commission would like to improve paths and install signage, benches to nature area.

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By BOB UPHUES

In the wake of a $14,841 grant from the Chicago Wilderness consortium, the Brookfield Conservation Commission has asked the Village of Brookfield to contribute a matching amount to enhance the Oak Savanna on the north end of Kiwanis Park.

In March, two members of the commission, Amy Bodwell and Suzanne Williams, applied for a Chicago Wilderness grant to improve the savanna's pathways, add educational elements and hire a consultant for ongoing restoration efforts. The group was awarded the grant, which must be matched by the village in cash or in-kind contributions. The source of in-kind contributions can be anything from supplies to labor from village staff or volunteers.

In all, the commission is seeking up to $44,000 (in cash or in-kind sources) from the village to make the Oak Savanna improvements a reality.

"If we can't get it all done, Chicago Wilderness will match what we do get done," said Williams. "The village can make up a lot of their contribution through avenues other than just money."

The most expensive improvement sought by the commission is paving the footpaths through the savanna. In 2004, the footpaths were created out of crushed stone that was donated by a local quarry. But the paths have proved to be somewhat of a maintenance hassle since their installation.

Some of the PVC drainage pipes laid under the trails to assist with storm runoff have been pulled out by vandals and the trails need to be graded after significant rains. But, the cost for paving the paths would run about $30,000, according to estimates given by the Conservation Commission.

"There's a tradeoff for paving the paths," Williams said. "But paving is the best, lowest-maintenance solution. But we can stay with the gravel paths indefinitely if we have to."

When the village board approached the subject of laying asphalt paths in the savanna back in 2003, there was little support for the plan.

Trustee Kit Ketchmark, the board's liaison to the Conservation Commission until recently, said he, for one, doesn't support paving the existing paths. However, he added, there needs to be some investment in path maintenance and in the savanna generally.

"The cost [for paving] is huge," Ketchmark said. "But dealing with the walking paths in some way should be a priority. It needs to be dealt with, and I think we will. The board needs to show some commitment to that."

That commitment may be in the form of in-kind labor and some money for other aspects of the savanna improvement plan.

Aside from path improvements, the Conservation Commission would like to erect an informational kiosk and a series of interpretive signs to inform and educate visitors about the ecological significance of the Oak Savanna and about the flora and fauna that can be found there.

The kiosk could also serve as a way to inform residents about volunteer workdays and Conservation Commission events.

In addition, the plan calls for placing three plastic benches next to the footpaths along with two containers each for trash and recyclables. The commission also would like to hire a consultant to devise a plan to help manage weed growth and schedule plantings.

Investing in the savanna is seen as a way to make the park more accessible to residents by partnering with Brookfield Zoo and Riverside-Brookfield High School and making the savanna part of the Zoo School curriculum.

"We've got a lot of opportunity here to create something more collaborative in the village, and we think that's important," Bodwell said. "We have to look at this in small steps or small victories. If we do a good job, there's a chance to get more grant money. I think we're on the right track."

The village is already making an in-kind volunteer contribution toward the grant by way of a local Boy Scout, Jason Riccio, who is leading a fence-building project on the savanna's north border as his Eagle Scout project.

He and fellow scouts, whose time can all be factored into the grant match, will build a split rail fence at the northeast corner of the park to help control the spread of plant growth and clear sight lines for cars approaching the Washington/Arden intersection.

But the level at which the village will contribute to the savanna improvements is up to the village board which is still hashing out the details of its 2005-06 budget.

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