Three first-time candidates join two incumbents in the race for three spots on the Crystal Lake Park District Board of Commissioners.
Both board President Cathy Cagle and board member and assistant treasurer Jason Heisler hope to retain their seats while the newcomers include retired teacher Mike Jacobson, retired Navy veteran John Pletz and Brandon Rogalski, a director with Power Construction.
While all candidates had positive things to say about the park district and how staff and board are leading it now, they also raised concerns about potentially “underserved” communities, some because of geography and some demographic.
Cagle said she hoped to continue as board president for one more year, having served in the role since 2021; both Cagle and Heisler said it was important to them to continue in their roles as public servants.
“I truly care about our community,” Cagle said, “and I believe I can continue to make valuable contributions and help steer the park district towards responsive and responsible choices.”
And the new candidates said they agree the park district leadership has done great work, adding that their interest in the position is more about maintaining the district’s high standards. In addition, all candidates said they wanted to keep the burden off taxpayers as much as possible.
Cagle said she supports planning that allows for growth and improving nature spaces, particularly for underserved groups, such as teenagers, or older adults.
Older adults have led the charge to look into acquiring the now-closed Northwestern Health Fitness Center in Crystal Lake, which had a warm-water pool utilized by many for therapeutic reasons. All candidates said they’d support looking into the possibility.
Pletz said from recent district surveys and board discussions, he felt that the far north and western portions of the park district could use more facilities, something the proposed Haligus Road Park project in Lakewood may address.
Pletz also agreed with continuing to expand options for older adults, noting the growth of the retiree population within the park district’s boundaries, and said he hoped to facilitate parks and programs “aimed at the population of the future.”
Rogalski agreed that “closing gaps for seniors should be a real focus” of the park district board’s work, emphasizing that he would “let the community be the voice” in prioritizing what expansions or amenities were needed.
The addition of pickleball courts in district parks, including the upcoming Haligus Road park, is an example of the district being responsive to study groups, Pletz said.
Heisler, who is completing his first four-year term, cited a renewed focus on the lake that gives Crystal Lake its name, as another example of community input success story within the park district.
Heisler was a lone voice of dissent on the board in 2019 regarding a lakebed ordinance because he felt that property owners along the lake hadn’t been consulted in the process.
The district has added a Lake Advisory Committee and improved the way the district communicated with residents on lake conditions and water quality during his time on the board, Heisler said.
Rogalski said that he was an “avid user and supporter” of park assets and that the park district was an essential part of what made Crystal Lake stand out as a place to live or move to.
Jacobson, who taught science in Wauconda, said he’s lived in Crystal Lake since 1965 and has worked within the park district in the past, giving him a familiarity and affinity for the services the park district offers community members.
“I just want to represent people who live in my neighborhood,” Jacobson said. “People move here for the park facilities. I utilize the parks on a daily basis, and I think this will be a productive way to spend retirement.”
Jacobson added he also has two kids who attend park district programs.
In addition to work on the park district’s five-year strategic plan – that process is in its final stages – Cagle, as well as outgoing board member Debbie Gallagher, cited the Haligus Road park, which will be the first new park in the district in 20 years, and working through the pandemic years as some of the major accomplishments the board has worked on.
While Gallagher said she was not running for reelection after 14 years, including nine as board president, she nevertheless described her time there as “an important part of my life” and said the park district was important to residents’ quality of life and sense of community.