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MAHOMET — Champaign County Forest Preserve District staff have been doing some catch-up work on facilities with the extra money provided through a voter-approved tax increase in November 2020.

The expanded, and completed, honey-do list included projects ranging from new roofs to upgraded trails.

Lorrie Pearson — on the job as executive director since September — likened it to keeping up with the repair work of an older home: There’s always something that needs attention.

“We’re always evaluating” what needs to be done, Pearson said. “It’s a matter of responding to those needs.”

The tax hike brought the district an additional $693,500 this year — “and so far we’ve spent over a million dollars on capital projects,” Pearson said.

Before the tax increase, the district would normally spend about $550,000 a year on repairs/upgrades.

“We’ll probably be doubling what we have done,” she said.

Here’s a look at improvements that have been completed thus far:

LAKE OF THE WOODS

  • New roofs on Izaak Walton Cabin and Elks Lake Pavilion.
  • Replacement of air-conditioning at Elks Lake Pavilion.
  • Work on bike path at Stidham Woods.
  • Replacement of hallway windows at golf course pro shop.
  • Replacement of split-rail fences throughout preserve.
  • Installation of second canoe/kayak access area.
  • Demolition of Swiss Valley shelter.
  • Sign/lighting replacement.

Both the cabin and pavilion are used extensively, with the pavilion being the larger of the two at the preserve near Mahomet.

Situated on the east side of the park, the pavilion sits near a lake that many people don’t know about and is used for meetings, weddings, anniversaries and other activities.

The cabin, nestled in a wooded area, is located farther west and used for meetings for such things as a river cleanup, bike events and small gatherings such as weddings.

The bike path was constructed in the early 1990s. Repairs on it, which Pearson called “mill-and-fill” work, was the first resurfacing work on it since it was built.

“The bike path ... was not a very smooth pavement,” Pearson said. “What this work does was smooth that down. It was difficult to ride on and difficult to walk on because of all the cracking and the bumps. It’s been completely resurfaced.”

The windows at the pro shop were “severely deteriorated and inefficient,” Pearson said. “Now it’s a beautiful space. I just walked through it today and was amazed at how much light comes through there.”

Split-rail fencing was replaced in a number of locations.

Pearson said “an exciting new facility” was added to the canoe/kayak access area near the cabin.

“There are two different spots where you can put your canoe or kayak in the water. If there’s high water, you can access the second point,” she said.

Several parking spots are adjacent to the access area.

Staff also demolished the deteriorating Swiss Valley shelter, which will not be replaced.

“The area is pretty low,” Pearson said. “A good portion of it will become pollinator planting. It won’t be used for gatherings.”

To offset that loss, the district earlier built an open-air shelter on the peninsula at Lake of the Woods.

The staff will also replace some signs and replace lighting with LED bulbs in some of the preserves.

MIDDLE FORK RIVER

  • New shower-house doors and new heating.
  • Ventilation and air-conditioning system for activity center.
  • Improvements to fishing/swimming lake (deeper lake, clay liner, removal of island, new sand, greater goose-prevention measures).

Pearson said the new doors on the shower house at the preserve north of Penfield are now compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The public will also have greater comfort with the new HVAC system in the activity center.

RIVER BEND

  • Roads seal-coated; trails top-dressed.

“There are quite a few trails,” Pearson said of the preserve south of Mahomet. “Some are gravel, and some are more rustic.”

Pearson said the trails are in use year round.

“Since March of 2020 (when COVID-19 entered our vernacular), we’ve seen an increase in trail use,” she said. “It’s rare for you to go to a trail and you not see someone. “

Sunset Lake at River Bend is the largest lake in Champaign County.

HOMER LAKE

  • Replacement of deck and sealing of siding at Homer Lake/Salt Fork Interpretive Center.
  • Installation of a new roof at Walnut Hill Shelter.

“Homer Lake is great,” Pearson said of the preserve northwest of Homer. “It’s really popular. The Salt Fork Center is a beautiful pavilion, and it has these great windows that look out at the lake.”

Pearson said Homer Lake is popular because of the lake view and the playscape, which she said “is a place for kids, but the adults appreciate it, too.”

Our County Editor

Dave Hinton is editor of The News-Gazette's Our County section and former editor of the Rantoul Press. He can be reached at dhinton@news-gazette.com.

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