STERLING – There’s a preconceived notion some people have of what park districts – especially those in more rural places – can offer.
Sterling Park District turns those expectations on their head, said Alan Tiongson, who moved with his family to Sterling from Lincolnshire in late 2020.
“Being a small community, you just don’t find this kind of stuff in a rural town,” Tiongson said. “In Indiana [where I grew up], we had some, but it was never kept up and rarely used. It was like going to a historic museum of gym equipment.”
At 100 years old, the Sterling Park District certainly is historic, but it prides itself on having state-of-the-art facilities, marketing manager Breanne Hunter said.
“I feel like, this area, we’re always on the cutting edge of things,” Hunter said. “I feel like we’re very fortunate in the small town to have the resources and equipment we offer.”
The Sterling Park District was established Oct. 26, 1923, and the first meeting of the park board took place Nov. 3, 1923.
Today, the park district encompasses more than 525 acres of land spread across 17 sites; hundreds of programs and organized activities; 7 miles of bike trails; and multiple facilities such as the Westwood Fitness and Sports Center, Duis Center, Emerald Hill Golf Course, Harry Oppold Marina and the Dillon Home Museum.
“During the past 100 years, the Sterling Park District has achieved many milestones,” according to the Fall 2023 Activity Guide. “Throughout the last century, we have seen tremendous growth and success. This growth and success, however, would not have been possible without supportive park boards, excellent staff, our community, our partners and our patrons. Gratitude to everyone involved with the park district, both in the past and in the present.”
Through its facilities, parks, trails and all its other amenities, Sterling Park District serves about 100,000 people who come from about a 30-mile radius, Hunter said. As of Nov. 1, there are 4,333 Total Fitness Pass members, which is the facility membership that grants access to the Westwood and Duis centers.
Tiongson and Vince Lombardo, of Rock Falls, and their families are among those with memberships.
The price of a park district membership is affordable, Lombardo said, noting that other gyms might cost $150 to $175 a person for just one class.
A monthly household Total Fitness Pass is $63.58, and a single adult is $40.58.
“We have the entire class, the entire facility, other classes, the coaches,” Lombardo said. “We’re spoiled.”
The Lombardos began taking their children – now 18 and 16 – to peewee soccer and T-ball about 15 years ago.
“I always was a coach with that, too,” Lombardo said. “Fast-forwarding through the years, we got a membership two years ago in August 2021, when I got introduced to CrossFit.”
He said he regrets not using the park district’s facilities sooner. Today, Lombardo and his wife visit Westwood four to five days a week.
“I think everybody should utilize it,” he said. “It builds everything within your own personal self and your life and your kids – all that stuff.”
Tiongson’s daughters are enrolled in swimming and gymnastics classes at the Duis Center, and they have participated in various camps through the park district.
“They love the gymnastics because there’s so many different things to play on and different equipment to test out,” Tiongson said.
He said he and his wife, Lyn, use Westwood pretty often – usually the track and Westwood Wellness. They are part of a Dixon-based running group, and they use Westwood for training once or twice a week, especially during the winter.
“I feel like they have all the nicest, state-of-the-art equipment,” Tiongson said. “I’m surprised half the time people don’t take advantage of it.”
In Chicago, where Tiongson lived before Lincolnshire, the fitness centers were completely filled, he said. Sterling Park District’s facilities are a nice change because there’s enough space and plenty of classes, Tiongson said.
“I don’t feel like we’re all on top of each other,” he said. “Nobody’s waiting for equipment.”
Although Lombardo said he personally hasn’t made much use of any other gyms, he’s heard people say that the park district has “one of the best facilities around.”
Sterling Park District is very well-known for Westwood Fitness & Sports Center, but it costs money to use, Hunter said.
“I think that while it’s great we offer that, we also strive to provide opportunities for everyone, even if you can’t afford to go there,” she said. “We’re trying to offer something for everyone in the community, regardless of their economic status.”
The Tiongsons make use of some of the parks, with their go-to spots being Hoover Park and Sinnissippi Park.
Hunter recently found some VHS tapes of Lawrence Park from 1938 and some of Sinnissippi Park’s old toboggan slide and ski jump. She said the footage – which she has had converted to digital – likely will be posted to the park district’s Facebook page at some point.
In the film of Sinnissippi Park, people appear to be dressed in their Sunday best and are going down a toboggan slide, Hunter said.
“It’s so cool to see how many people are out enjoying the park,” she said of the Lawrence Park footage. “Personally, I think it’s so nice to see no cellphones and everyone socializing and having a good time. It’s cool to see a different time like that.”
For more on the history of the Sterling Park District, check out Shaw Media’s Oct. 16 Sterling-Rock Falls Living magazine.