No snow, no problem: How Vernon Hills park officials want to ensure sledding next winter
Besides traditional projects like playground renovations, the Vernon Hills Park District's 2021 capital budget is expected to include a quirky purchase: a snow-making machine.
As the last of the heavy February snow melts with spring on the horizon, park district officials are looking ahead to times when Mother Nature isn't cooperating with winter activities, especially on the sled hill at the district's centerpiece Century Park.
"People have to get out in the winter when it's not bitter cold," said Jeff Fougerousse, the district's executive director.
"It's a worthwhile investment."
At 40 feet high, 300 feet long and 100 feet wide, the Century Park sled hill is a popular attraction that got a lot of use in recent weeks. It was so popular the volume of sledders eventually created moguls on the hill. That led to the facility being closed last week a bit earlier than normal for the season.
That wasn't the case in the preceding months, when the conversation among weather watchers focused on how little snow had fallen.
"The way the weather has been over the last several years, especially in December, we've had the temperatures for kids to go out sledding, but we didn't have the snow," said park board President David Doerhoefer.
And with the coronavirus creating an uptick for all things outdoors, park district officials figured a free and fun winter activity like sledding would add to the outdoor enjoyment for patrons.
The purchase of what would be the district's first snow-making machine was presented last week as part of the proposed $500,000 capital budget. Commissioners vetted the budget, which is scheduled for approval at the March 25 board meeting.
"You can look at this as one of those unique things that's a nice amenity for our residents," Fougerousse, said. "It makes sense. Families can enjoy it -- it's not just a thing for kids."
The park district staff is researching specifications, such as how many square feet of snow a given machine will cover. Generally, the cost will range from about $22,000 to $25,000, and the machine should last 10 years or more, Doerhoefer said.
"This past January would have been a great example of cold but dry weather," said Tom Ritter, superintendent of recreation. "This machine would have provided a great opportunity for kids and families to get outside, have some fun, and get some exercise."
The park district through the 2021 capital budget also plans to renovate playgrounds in Century and Sugar Creek parks, renovate the tennis courts at Laschen Park, and renovate the kitchen at its child care center.