Denise Crosby: Dog park upgrades unleash angry backlash
By Denise Crosby email@example.com September 19, 2013 3:52PM
Tony Birshall's dog Sully walks on the grass trail at Green Valley dog park in Naperville. The Forest Preserve is planning to put down limestone at this park in the spring, despite a survey put out by its board that showed residents were overwhelmingly in favor of the natural turf or wood chips ground covering. | Submitted
Updated: October 21, 2013 2:20PM
It may not be the most pressing issue out there right now.
But it does involve dogs. Naperville dogs, to be exact.
And we all know how folks get when canines are the topic of controversy ... especially when it involves their hard-earned taxpayer money.
It all started when the DuPage Forest Preserve decided to replace the mulch and turf ground-coverings in Naperville’s two biggest dog parks with crushed limestone.
The Forest Preserve decided limestone was preferable over wood chips and grass because it drains better and is safer and healthier for man and man’s best friend. Spokesman Sue Olafson said several veterinarians she called told her parasites can grow in wood chips, for example, making it dangerous for canines to ingest, and that the packed-down limestone is a safer surface on which to walk for people and animals.
But Board Commissioner Linda Painter, whose District 3 contains one of those parks, wasn’t so sure. She started talking to pet owners in other places and got plenty of negative feedback about limestone. So the board decided to put out a survey to find out what residents thought about the choices between limestone, wood chips and grass.
And guess what? The survey came back overwhelmingly against limestone.
So what did the board do with that information? They pushed full speed ahead with plans to put down limestone. Work began this week to replace the mulch at Greene Valley at a cost of $20,000, and will continue this spring at Springbrook Prairie, where the grass will get replaced with limestone at a cost of around $45,000.
All of which has unleashed the ire of dog owners who use both parks.
Indeed, these pet owners have been dogging the Forest Preserve since this announcement was made. They are demanding hard answers, especially in light of their own research they insist shows limestone is not only much more expensive — the mulch comes from Forest Preserve trees — but it is also messier, more toxic and more dangerous to walk on because it heats up in the summer and is icy in the winter.
Olafson apologized for the survey, saying it was the Forest Preserve’s mistake for not clearly explaining the benefits of limestone, which she insists will be cheaper and safer in the long run.
“We are looking at the big picture,” she insisted.
But residents, who describe the board’s decision as arrogant and disrespectful, question that big picture.
“I’d like to know why,” said resident Mary Wells, “the board is allowing construction that wastes taxpayer money when the majority of us don’t want limestone.”
At a heated meeting Tuesday, resident Kathi Taskila warned the board of the legal liabilities they face from the limestone. Commissioners Tim Whelan and Linda Painter even asked for a moratorium until more information could be compiled. They were, however, outvoted by the other three members, including Mary Lou Wehrli, whose district contains Springbrook Prairie.
“I’m upset about it,” said Painter, who was at least hoping for a compromise at Greene Valley, which is in her district.
Resident Tony Birchall, yet another incensed resident, describes “this latest act to dismiss our concerns,” as “abhorrent.”
“Where is the democracy at the Forest Preserve?” he asked. “This is literally an example of the tail wagging the dog.”