McHenry County Conservation District chipping at large to-do list

Trail, walkway and restroom upgrades next

WOODSTOCK – The walkways at three campsites, restrooms at a Wonder Lake conservation area and sections of the Prairie Trail are next on a lengthy to-do list to improve accessibility.

Updated regulations created under the Americans with Disabilities Act added recreational facilities and improved outdoor spaces to its scope, requiring entities such as the McHenry County Conservation District to make sure visitors with disabilities can have the same outdoor experience as anyone else.

The conservation district doesn’t have the funds to do everything on its to-do list, so it has to prioritize, Executive Director Elizabeth Kessler said.

The two reports it has on the subject – one on sites and another on facilities – add up to 156 pages.

The district has been chipping away at the list, first taking care of everything that could be handled in-house or at no cost and then moving on to larger improvements.

In prioritizing its projects, the district considers multiple factors, including how often is the space used, whether accessible alternatives exist, whether the improvement can be made as part of regular maintenance and if there’s funding for it, Kessler said.

The Marengo Ridge Conservation Area is a popular site, she said. That’s why two of its campsites at Thomas Woods are set to have their walking paths improved this year.

The district’s Board of Trustees approved putting the project – which also includes improving the walking paths at a Rush Creek Conservation Area campsite – out to bid at its meeting Thursday evening.

The work is estimated to cost $54,500 and to take place this fall.

The board also took a next step on accessibility improvements at Harrison Benwell Conservation Area outside Wonder Lake. It awarded the project, which includes demolishing the existing bathrooms and building new accessible ones, to the low-bidder, Marengo-based Carmichael Construction.

The bids came in over budget, so staff recommended reducing the scope of the Rush Creek improvements, according to board documents.

Those improvements originally included making the whole campsite accessible through changes to the restrooms, wider paths and replacing the hand pump with drinking fountains, spokeswoman Wendy Kummerer said. Now, the existing path will just be resurfaced.

A third project that will address accessibility issues is also on the slate for this year but has not yet gone out to bid, Kummerer said. The planned work includes resurfacing a section of the Prairie Trail in Crystal Lake.