WILMETTE – The Wilmette Park District is planning to rehab the Keay Nature Learning Center, a secluded 4.6 acre nature preserve located between the intersection of Skokie Boulevard and Hubbard Road.
The Ouilmette Foundation recently gave the Park District $30,000, with $20,000 of that amount earmarked for the Keay renovation, as well as a promise to spearhead a volunteer effort in the community. In addition to fundraising, the foundation has spent the past year raising awareness about Keay, which is a little-known oasis within the Park District system.
“Just as valuable as raising funds was raising awareness of this great gem,” George Rafeedie, president of the Ouilmette Foundation, told DailyNorthShore.
While Keay has been on the Park District’s agenda for many years, the foundation also helped prioritize the renovation, Rafeedie said.
Named for the late Stephen R. Keay, director of the Northern Suburban Special Recreation Association, the site was purchased by the Wilmette Park District in 1974 with the aid of a federal grant. The park was completed in 1981, with an eye toward keeping it accessible to everyone, particularly those with special needs.
Keay is known for its winding paths, man-made pond and waterfall, surrounded by native plants and trees. Park District officials hope to return the park to its initial vision when it was first developed.
“I want the park to serve passive recreation as it does today, be accessible to all people of all abilities, while at the same time providing nature recreation and education that members of the public can interact with on their own, or we can interface with as a part of nature programming here at the District,” Steven Wilson, director of the Park District, told DailyNorthShore.com.
Forum Studio, a Chicago-based architecture firm, presented a scaled-back design to the Parks and Recreation Committee in January. Previous plans were rejected and committee members requested a less costly design.
The revised proposal includes three phases of work that would primarily preserve the park’s features, while addressing some deferred maintenance and increasing the native wildlife and plant diversity. Some of Forum Studio’s proposals include planting trees and native plants, a new bridge, additional access points to the park, as well as regrading the paths to prevent flooding. Forum Studio estimates the costs from a low of $250,000 up to $380,000.
At this point, final plans have not been approved. Wilson is planning a brief presentation on plans for Keay at the Park District’s March 12 board meeting. A public input session will also be held on March 20 at the Community Recreation Center. Community input will be considered before the Parks and Recreation Committee finalize any plans, Wilson said.
Once details of the project are determined, Park District officials will likely complete the project in phases over time.