Enriching Community Life… Sustainably

by Emily Cahill, Peoria Park District

Arlington, Virginia. Charleston, South Carolina. Jacksonville, Florida. Kansas City, Missouri. Miami, Florida. Peoria, Illinois. San Diego, California. Tampa, Florida.

Each of these communities hosts dedicated park and recreation agencies, like ours, that are stewards of more than 8,000 acres of land. Each of them serves hundreds of thousands of people each year with wellness and education programs. All serve those who live, work and play in their districts.

But one of these communities is not like the others. Each of these communities, save one, is home to at least 225,000 residents, and almost all are in warmer weather climates. Nearly all are home to a major league or professional football team. Which one is different? Peoria.

Since its creation as the first park district in Illinois in 1894, the Peoria Park District has worked to enrich life in our community through stewardship of the environment and through quality recreation and leisure opportunities.

Over time, that has meant our district has taken on some pretty bold efforts. Peoria Zoo, Owens Recreation Center, Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum, a multi-course public golf system… These are a just a few of the amenities our community enjoys and benefits from daily. In the larger communities mentioned earlier, facilities like these are maintained and supported by the private sector.

Did you know the Peoria Park District maintains more holes of public golf than San Diego’s park and recreation agency? Did you know we’re the only district on this list that is responsible for a zoo and an ice center?

For more than 120 years, the Peoria Park District has put the play in Peoria, always growing to meet the wants and needs of our region. Today, we are proud to provide access to the great outdoors through our parks system and nature centers that host more than 50 miles of hiking and biking trails in and around Peoria.

The variety of events and facilities hosted by the District throughout our community will keep you engaged and active. Glen Oak Park is a daylong destination and home to Peoria Zoo, Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum and Luthy Botanical Garden. The District hosts all kinds of adult and youth sports, including softball, soccer, volleyball, tennis and more, while Owens Center offers ice skating year-round! Each year, hundreds of concerts, festivals and special events take place on the Peoria RiverFront and in our parks, in addition to fun and healthy activities at Franciscan, Lakeview, Logan and Proctor Recreation Centers and the state-of-the-art RiverPlex Health and Wellness Center.

However, this wealth of resources does not come without cost. Parks and facilities must be maintained at the highest possible standard, and people are needed to facilitate programs and ensure the safety of users. After several years of financial struggles—which included a 16-percent decrease in the full-time workforce and the closure of one golf course—the District is in the midst of strategic planning that will focus our work over the next few years on how to become more sustainable.

As part of this process, we must find a way to balance fun and fiscal responsibility—to continue to be bold and innovative while serving our users in the best possible ways. Our commitment to you and to ourselves as part of this process:

  • We will be responsible stewards of all District resources.
  • We will focus on services that make the greatest impact.
  • We will create a culture that values and supports each other, those we serve, and our community.

With these priorities as our guide, we look forward to serving our region for at least another 120 years! iBi

Emily Cahill is executive director of the Peoria Park District.