SPRINGFIELD — Lake of the Woods will expand its lake accessibility within the next two years following Gov. J.B. Pritzker's awarding of $152,400 from the state's Open Space Land Acquisition and Development grant, which assists parks in acquiring open space or developing and improving local recreational facilities throughout the state.
"We're very excited about it," Executive Director Mary Ellen Wuellner said.
Grant coordinator Jarrod Scheunemann said the awarded grant money will improve accessibility for individuals with disabilities in the area near the intersection of Tin Cup and Lake of the Woods roads, commonly referred to as the peninsula.
"We're putting in a large picnic shelter, which will be one of our first accessible shelters," he said. "It will have accessible picnic tables, grills and parking spots."
With the addition of a new picnic shelter comes the farewell to the current Swiss Valley open-air shelter, which will be torn down. Wuellner said the shelter is located in a floodplain, has "structural issues" and poses problems for forest preserve goers who have physical disabilities.
"A lot of thought was given for individuals with physical limitations," Wuellner said. "If you've got anybody in your party with any physical mobility issues, (it's hard to get to). I've watched people get down to it and it's not easy to access."
Near the new picnic shelter will be a looping trail, approximately one-quarter mile long, that will connect with the area neighborhood and go down to the rental paddle boat house.
"We'll be able to demolish the current boathouse and put in a new one," Scheunemann said. "We'll take out the (boat) dock — it's long past its life expectancy — (and) we're putting in a floating dock."
The new floating dock area will be the site of a new kayak-canoe launch point with easy access for individuals with disabilities.
"(It's) going to be the first kayak-canoe launch in the county to have two transfer stations that will assist people in wheelchairs," Scheunemann said. "They will be able to get into paddle boats or kayaks or canoes. It will have two handles for them to use to launch or pull themselves out of the water."
The OSLAD grant provides half of the necessary project funds. The rest will be up to generous donations to the forest preserve.
"Our Friends Foundation will be looking for private donations to help us get this project underway," Wuellner said. "Some of the funds we have already collected, but we still have some additional fundraising to do."
The Champaign County Forest Preserve District is no stranger to the OSLAD grant. Wuellner said CCFPD has used awarded OSLAD grant funds for many projects over the years.
"The one that comes to mind initially for me is we actually used OSLAD (funds) to acquire the Sangamon River Forest Preserve north of Mahomet. The grant allowed us to do both acquisition and land development," she said.
Other projects include the development of the Riverbend Forest Preserve south of Mahomet.
"It's been a grant that's been very helpful to the forest preserve," Wuellner said.
Wuellner hopes project construction will begin as early as spring 2020. The latest would be fall 2020.
"Obviously, like any project we work on, it's always weather dependent," she said.
Lake of the Woods is one of 89 state projects totaling $28.9 million in grants. OSLAD receives a percentage of dedicated funding from the state's Real Estate Transfer tax. The grant program began in 1987.
Other awarded OSLAD grants in Champaign County include the Champaign Park District's Human Kinetics Park development ($400,000), Urbana Park District's Crystal Lake rehabilitation project ($400,000) and the village of Rantoul's Rudzinksi Park redevelopment ($360,000).