MAHOMET — The Champaign County Forest Preserve District remains $45,212 short of its matching portion ($76,200) of a state grant that has led to development of an accessibility project at an area that at one time was the most heavily used part of Lake of the Woods.
The district has until May 22 to raise the money toward its share of the $152,400 Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development grant. Some of the matching money needed has been offset by the district using its own labor to build the project.
Donations have also been received.
The project, located on what is called “The Peninsula,” is designed to improve accessibility for people who might have mobility limitations.
“The showcase piece of the project is a fully accessible kayak/canoe launch, which allows access to our boat-launch area into the lake if you have mobility issues,” Executive Director Mary Ellen Wuellner said.
“It has a set of rails on it ... to help you into the boat and assist to launch you into the lake.”
Wuellner said it is the first of its kind in the region.
It will also be the launch area for paddle boats.
The project has also included the construction of two shelters with picnic tables and grills, a path leading to the water and a looped trail that goes back to the park area.
Years ago, Wuellner said, that area was the most heavily used at Lake of the Woods because it held the swim beach and nearby slide. In recent years, it might be the most lightly used.
On weekends years ago, the place was packed.
“We have old postcards when the water slide and diving boards (were up) from the ’60s or ’70s. It was like wall-to-wall people,” she said.
“Underutilized” is the term Wuellner used for the area now, but it is also “one of the prettiest areas of the preserve.”
Swimming has not been allowed there since 2003. She said it had dropped off in the decade before that, possibly because of rumors about the water quality.
But the water’s fine now, she said.
“We’ve had a couple of swimming events here at Lake of the Woods the last couple of years, and the water quality was quite good,” Wuellner said.
Liability and staff costs also played a part in the closure of the swimming area.
Wuellner said the forest preserve district board wanted to improve the area so it would be used again.
An appeal was made for contributions toward the project.
Two weeks ago, AMBUCS of Greater Champaign County donated $10,000. Donations have also been received from Champaign Rotary, Community Foundation of East Central Illinois and State Rep. Dan Caulkins, whose district includes Lake of the Woods.
Not to worry, though. If the matching money can’t be raised through donations, the district will cover the cost — deferring funds from other projects. The board, however, would prefer not having to do so.
“What we’re trying to do is use reserve capital funds for things that are harder to fundraise for” like road or roof repair or HVAC equipment, Wuellner said.Donations may be made to the Forest Preserve Friends Foundation at P.O Box 1040, Mahomet, IL 61853 or online.