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Shnay: Rebuilt wetlands deck tribute to Park Forest community spirit

Updated: June 6, 2013 6:16AM



It’s not difficult to make lemonade out of lemons. All you need is lots of sugar.

When Park Forest opened the rebuilt observation platform last week at the Central Park Wetlands, there was talk of how the deck burned to the ground last year and of how Park Forest residents, a civic group and various commissions came together to replace it.

Village manager Tom Mick reminded onlookers about lemons and lemonade and how sugar — in this case, lots of sweet donations of money by Park Foresters — helped restore the structure.

Longtime village residents George and Connie Manno poured the first $100 into the pot shortly after the deck was destroyed last June. In a letter to the village, George Manno hoped that perhaps 100 to 200 residents would donate money to rebuild the deck.

“No matter how many donations it takes, the observatory must be rebuilt,” he wrote in the letter, which was the opening salvo of a grassroots effort to rebuild the destroyed village treasure.

The word went out quickly, and the money started to trickle in — much of it in small denominations from those who understood that the park’s wetlands area was our communal back yard and the observation deck belonged to everyone.

Along with the individual donations, the rebuilding of the observation deck was embraced by the Park Forest Rotary Club with help from the village’s environment and recreation and parks commissions.

At first, it was thought that the cost of rebuilding the deck would be close to $18,000, with the village coming up with half the money. Raising about $9,000 is a formidable task these days, but in the end the cost of restoration was almost halved.

The platform’s original footings and metal fittings were still sound, and there was enough sawn lumber on hand to lower the total expenditure to $10,000, with nearly $5,200 raised by village residents.

In part, the rebuilding of the observation deck is one more example of the civic pride that Park Forest residents take in their community and one more reason to disavow those who believe otherwise.

It was fitting that the reopening of the deck was done during Earth Week. And it was doubly appropriate that in their last official act as members of the village board, outgoing trustees Ken Kramer and Bonita Dillard helped cut the ceremonial ribbon re-opening the area to all of us.

It must also be mentioned that John Joyce, the village’s retired recreation and parks department director, was at the opening. Without his vision, and that of the department’s current director, Rob Guenther, the idea of a wetlands area in Central Park might never have taken wing.

Bert Weaver, the building maintenance specialist for the recreation and parks department, designed the new observation deck.

What village residents got for our money is an observation deck on steroids — longer and higher than its predecessor, built with ramps that allow wheelchairs to traverse from ground level to a prime vantage spot overlooking almost all of the wetlands.

None of this would have happened had not the old deck caught fire. However it started, in the long run the blaze probably did us all a favor.

We got our lemonade.



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