We had a great turnout Thursday 21 February 2013 for the Jacksonville Town Brook Improvement Project Community Input Day. Engineers said in other towns they’ve sat around for a day while two people stopped in. This time they had a steady stream of people from the community coming to give their input. Thanks for your support!

Farnsworth Group sent two of their planners — Bruce Brown, a landscape architect, and (Jacksonville native) Kevin Hannel, engineer. (Neat side point — Bruce’s uncle was the first president of the Naperville Riverwalk 30 years ago, mentioned before in our blog. The walk is one of the community features that puts the Chicago suburb at the top of the best places to live in the United States. We can have a little bit of that here in Jacksonville!)

Highlights are below. If you don’t see your idea, you still can be heard by emailing ideas @townbrook_com or call Lori Oldenettel 217.370.4597 before the end of the month by Thursday 2/28. Farnsworth Group will work with all the ideas and suggestions, and present a master plan the city can follow in the future.

One of the best parts of the day was during the time for people who live next to the Town Brook. Two different families came, both expresses interest and excitement with the project. They hoped the project would address some of the flooding and maintenance along the Town Brook, and were receptive to the idea of public use of the land behind their homes. “People have walked there for years and enjoyed it.” So what we’re proposing with the Town Brook isn’t a radical new idea – it’s formalizing what already happens unofficially, and invites the whole community to take advantage of this community resource.

Another highlight of the day was during the city official segment when Bruce Surratt of the city’s Parks & Lakes Department said he’s been fielding numerous phone calls from people who want to know when they’re going to be able to start using a path along the Town Brook. “Are we going to be able to ride along the Town Brook Path to get out to the lake to watch the 4th of July fireworks” Surratt reported one enthusiastic caller asked. It’s great to see how much excitement this project proposal is garnering in the community!

To sum up the day, it looks like the anchor points of a Town Brook recreational path will start at Illinois College/YMCA and follow city land to MacMurray College. Along the brook add trees and put in wildflowers that grow knee-to-waist tall. A path along the brook at certain points would divert onto neighboring sidewalks or streets. There would be side paths off the Town Brook recreational path to pull in destinations such as the downtown Jacksonville, Washington School, Franklin School and Community Park. Focus also on improving the health and flow of the stream.

The beginning and end points can later be extended to run to Wal-Mart and future development west of Jacksonville along the US 67 corridor, and connect with a bike route to Lake Jacksonville via Massey Lane and Airport Road; beyond MacMurray a bike route can run on Routt Street, connect to the Our Saviour School fields plus railroad land south of College and Foreman Grove. After that connect north along Mauvaisterre Creek to the north end of town, connect with Pioneer Woods and the Pioneer Heritage Foundation Zion Park off east State Street, pedestrian bridge at the Old State Road bridge gets people back on State Street east past the Gen. Grierson Home and back to MacMuarry College and downtown Jacksonville.

Farnsworth Group will present an outline study to the city council sometime this spring. The city then needs to go ahead to Phase 3 which would be a more extensive study and planning. Please keep communicating with your city alderman your support of this project, and your support of funding Phase 3!

Extended notes:

The day was broken up into half-hour blocks set aside for different members of the community, such as city leaders, colleges, adjacent property owners and business.

Special Studies Jacksonville Town Brook Improvement Committee & City Council Members
The day started with city officials, from the city council, administration and the Special Studies Jacksonville Town Brook Improvement Committee. Kelly Hall of the Inspections Department said planning for land to the east of Lincoln to MacMurray College will be easiest, because it’s already owned by the city or has easements. Bruce Surratt of the city’s Parks & Lakes Department said he was getting phone calls from community members excited about the project (above). Bruce pointed out the “Looking Back” feature in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier talked about getting funding to take down the quad buildings on the square 10 years ago, and like the downtown project it’ll take some time to get from planning to progress. He said other communities like Springfield were lucky to have abandoned rail corridors to convert from rails to trails. While Jacksonville, as a railroad center, still has all their rail lines active. “We don’t have a blank canvas, we have a torn up canvas that needs to be fixed.”

Lots of mention was made of trash (fast food bags, wrappers, napkins) blowing in off of Morton and into the Town Brook. Alderman Don Cook, who was part of the fall cleanup, said the section that his crew made spotless is now full of trash again. Challenges of enforcing littering laws is that you have to catch people tossing. Maybe a fence could be put in at the back of business to catch blowing trash. Also, as the Town Brook becomes a park, and a path, and people walk around and see trash with a big logo on it, it’ll come back to that business and they’ll take responsibility for their trash. Giving attention to the Town Brook will bring civic pride and involvement, that would encourage businesses to take steps to keep their trash out of the parkway.

Illinois College’s Larry Zettler (city’s special studies committee) said the Town Brook is a great resource for educational opportuntities. Not just for science, but for all students. MacMurray College’s Nadine Szczepanski (also of the city’s study committee) said students from Mac as well can help plant native grasses and wildflowers and make for a beautiful and clean brook through town. Both college professors love the project. The brook can also have WiFi hotspots, allowing for outdoor labs and for on-site classes on the Town Brook.

City should be open to private donations. Farnsworth Group guys said companies, corporations, donors won’t give for maintenance, but will donate a shelter, benches, etc. things that are visible.

Farnsworth Group suggested anchors to start and end the path, like Illinois College/YMCA to MacMurray College. The end points can expand later to Wal-Mart and west (connect to bike route down Massey Lane, Airport Road and to Lake Jacksonville) and to Foreman Grove and east to North East side of town.

Main Street/Jacksonville Visitors and Conventions Bureau

Brittany Henry of the Jacksonville Visitors and Conventions Bureau gave some ideas for places in town for a path to connect to. The designers suggest that you tie in connections to the Town Brook path, to places like downtown square, schools like Washington, and historical sights like the Grierson Home.

A path could go north/east from Foreman Grove on the east side of town, east side of Mauvaisterre Creek; to the Pioneer Heritage Park and then over the old State Street crossing (removed) with a pedestrian bridge; head west back into town hitting the Grierson Home; and back into downtown square and reconnect to the path via the Main Street connection.

Jacksonville Main Street interested in the connecting downtown square and businesses to traffic on the Town brook path at the Main Street crossing. Farnsworth Group previously presented scenic overlook drawings, and this would be the spot to really play up the brook. Put in a rock wall bank, nice trail, pretty flowers. Maybe even close the Mauvaisterre Street East/West off Main and turn that area into a wide spot in the creek, with a little dam to make a pool, water fountain or other water feature.

Outdoor nature classrooms, for use by colleges or by grade schools or junior high. Can add other amenities like open spaces, sand lot baseball, ice rink, restrooms, shelter, places to grill out.

Illinois College & MacMurray College

MacMurray is tearing down Blackstock Hall, in floodplain on south campus. Will be part of a green space that community can use. Mac is interested in having the Town Brook path go right through campus. Farnsworth Group was happy to get this info, because they didn’t know if they had to work around the campus.

Illinois College representatives were also excited about the project, and would love to connect both campuses via a bike trail. Something like this would give recreational opportunities for students, faculty, staff and tie the community into the campus. The Town Brook would also beautify the south side of campus, and welcome people to the college.

Adjacent Property Owners – mentioned above.

Landowners from Fayette Court and West Chambers attended. Said people have walked along the Town brook for years, and enjoyed it, acts as a short cut to Morton Avenue. People use the Town Brook now, just not officially. Interested in adding trees, making area nicer. Added benefits of clearing up flow to reduce flooding. Farnsworth Group said in other communities along a bike path neighboring properties could get a $5,000 boost in property values. Helpful for resale. Plus in new developments that include paths, lots directly adjacent to the path sell first and have higher value.

Woods Lane Bike Group/ Other Bike Groups

The Woods Lane Mountain Bikers were not able to come (they all had to work the snow) but Steve represented them. They’ve build a great system of trails off Woods Lane around Lake Mauvaisterre. They would like to see a bike path that connect the Town Brook path to their bike network, then on to Lake Jacksonville and a new mountain biking network. They also offered manpower to work along the Town Brook.

Other cyclists (road) have said the Town Brook path can be a safe way to get cyclists out of town where they ride low-traffic country roads. A Town Brook path would help the creation of a bike path to Lake Jacksonville.

General Public – due to snowstorm, no members of the general public came. Farnsworth Group engineer and landscape architect talked to WLDS radio reporter, then headed home.

Random notes

Timeframe on Brook — some things can start soon, like planting trees and putting in wildflowers. Can have project in different phases. But to transform the whole stream might take 20 years or more.

Suggestion was made to include windmills or other alternative energy generation on the parkway as a demonstration project. Bruce Brown said this could be part of the lighting on Town Brook. Said there’s LED lighting system with poles 12-15 foot off the ground, no underground cables, with devices to capture solar and wind energy. Important not to do ground-level lighting, which can create dark spots and require more lighting than an overhead system. Some spots might have emergency call boxes (like the blue-light stations on Illinois College campus).

Improve health of stream, give place for fish. Re-meander in spots, riparian areas.

Connect to Jacksonville history, connection to Underground Railroad, freed slaves would move into city along Town Brook and later be taken to Underground Railroad homes for safe keeping.

Plant prairie, mix of native wildflowers and grasses that would grow to about waist high. Would need to prairie smoke management every three years to control invasive and protect prairie. Dry prairie.

Decking — have flat areas with access to water in Town Brook.

You can put up a temporary ice rink on a spot of grass along creek (about $5,000 for walls etc to make rink). Harkens back to historic Ashelby Pond near current County Market where people would skate, ice would be cut out and stored in an ice house for use in ice boxes, plus city later used pond as a water source for municipal water supply.

Kayak Water Park — no whitewater in town, but there’s some pretty deep pools in Mauvaisterre Creek on the east side of town. Check out the waterway at the closed State Street crossing sometime (east side of creek, by the Pioneer Heritage Park).