Board of Park Commissioners Regular Board Meeting
President Randel’s Opening Statement – August 28, 2019
My name is Penny Randel and on behalf of the Northbrook Park District Board of Commissioners, I would like to welcome and thank you for attending tonight’s meeting. Before we hear your comments, I would like to make a brief statement on behalf of the District regarding Northbrook Days, because I know many of you are here to discuss this event. We share your disappointment about this year’s change of venue and, while I know this has already been the topic of much discussion, we want to share with you, directly, some details about how and why this change was made.
First: why didn’t we host the festival as usual? It’s a simple answer: to protect our trees. Let me be clear: The mission of the Northbrook Park District is to enhance our community by providing outstanding services, parks and facilities, through social and financial stewardship. That stewardship is a balancing act that must take everything into consideration including the large variety of plant life. An example is reduction in the use of herbicides and chemicals which leads to a few more weeds in the grass but is perceived as safer for human and animal contact.
At Village Green Park, we have become increasingly concerned about of the health and stability of trees, especially the heritage oak trees. Since 2010, 11 of those oak trees have had to be removed because of their declining health and potential for damage to people and/or property in the event of a sudden storm or wind event. Other trees in the park have been showing signs of stress. Last fall the District hired an outside arborist to assess the health of the trees in Village Green Park and to give the District guidance about how to slow or stop the loss of trees in this important community park. The Oak Tree Management Plan document is available on our web site and it is easily read by a non-professional person. The report is only seven pages. We have some printed copies available this evening and a link to the site is available on the bottom of the agenda. The Board received the Plan from staff early this spring. We all support doing whatever needs to be done to sustain the health of the trees that remain and protect them from further stress and harm. Village Green is the oldest park and, being in the center of town, it gets intense daily use and hosts multiple community events.
Northbrook Days causes the biggest and worst impact to the health of the park. Huge, heavy semi-trailer trucks carrying carnival rides drive across many surfaces of the park. The combined weight of the trucks and the rides compacts the soil and damages the roots to the point where our trees are at risk. Shortly after a heavy rain, the surface can appear dry or even cracked. We know this is confusing to casual observers, but we have verified that the layers below are still very wet, and, in these conditions, the heavy trucks sink in and cause even more damage. Over the years, this stress has compromised the roots and the very health of our trees. This is a documented reason why we have already lost several oak trees, and it’s our responsibility to protect those that are at further risk.
This year, we faced an even bigger risk. Over the years the event has grown into a five-day festival with 17 heavy carnival rides, 5 days of set up, a couple of days of take down and 5 weeks of park recovery. After record rainfall in May, our Parks Director attended the June 5th Northbrook Days meeting and recommended the Northbrook Days Committee have a backup plan in the event that the park was not useable for Northbrook Days. I was present at that meeting and heard exactly what was said. We then had record rains throughout June. It was still so wet on the 4th of July that the Rotary Pancake Breakfast had to be reconfigured to a different area of the park.
The week before setup was to begin for this Northbrook Days, Northbrook received 7-plus inches of rain. Our golf courses were among several closed in the area, and other athletic games were canceled. On Friday, July 26, the weather predictions were for more rain over the weekend, as Northbrook Days set-up was to begin. District staff took the precaution of roping off areas so that trucks and other vehicles couldn’t pass over at-risk tree roots. Civic members were told that staff would reassess the area on Monday, July 29, to determine whether some or all areas could be re-opened, depending on the actual weekend rainfall. We all came to understand that, ultimately, protecting trees meant that Village Green Park could support only part of the festival, not the heavier rides, and—without an option to close the street—Civic opted to move the whole event. They did this by activating their emergency plan for the Northbrook Court location, which they had previously designed with the Village. The Park District couldn’t offer an alternative Park site, as that would have pre-empted more than a week’s worth of existing programming such as camps and ball games
There’s also been a lot of discussion about WHEN this decision was made by the Civic Foundation. As I’ve already indicated, it came after communication with our staff regarding conditions of the park. We were engaged in conversation and analysis right up to the final weekend before the festival. We did this in good faith, hoping the event could be held in the park.
We, too, were disappointed to see the festival move this year. But the Park District continued to support Civic. Northbrook Park District makes a significant financial investment in Northbrook Days every year. The support includes daily festival staffing, vehicle rentals, moving services and garbage services. We are very glad that there was good attendance which made the festival a successful fundraiser for the Civic Foundation, helping fulfill THEIR mission.
Finally, there’s the question of “what next?” On Monday, August 19, representatives from the Park District, the Village, and Civic met to discuss what happened and to consider ways that Northbrook Days 2020 could return to the downtown area. The District is committed to continued meetings over the coming months to work out an agreement that serves the residents of the village and allows all entities to pursue their respective missions—including our mission to protect the trees in Village Green Park.