Dixon Park District completes enhancement project in the Meadows

2 observation decks, improved signage marking the trails added to park over 2-plus years

Riders and runners use the Lowell Parkway trail Wednesday, June 12, 2024 near The Meadows. The park district has been working to enhance the trails for comfort and safety.

DIXON – After more than two years, the Dixon Park District has completed its trail-enhancement project, improving safety and accessibility, and increasing use of the Lowell Parkway Trail into the Meadows.

Funded by a $185,600 grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Recreational Trails Program and supported by funding from the Federal Highway Administration program, the park district added two observation decks, Wi-Fi, blue light emergency poles, improved lighting at trailhead parking lots, improved signage marking the trails, built several education platforms, added bike repair stations and completed general repairs on trail pathways.

The park district wanted to bring awareness to the Meadows. “Not a lot of people knew about it or used it,” Duane Long, Dixon Park District’s executive director said. “We wanted to bring light to a beautiful piece of property.”

It all started in 2022 when Teresa Smith, the park district’s former executive director, recognized the lack of awareness of the property and made a plan to apply for the RTP grant. It was a 45-page application that took about six months to complete. The grant provided 80% federal funding and required a 20% match.

After the park district’s match of $48,298, the total budget for the project was more than $200,000.

Construction began in May 2022. Contractors were hired to build the new observation decks and design the signage, but most of the work was “completed in-house,” Long said.

Most of the improvements had to do with safety, per the terms of the grant. The biggest part of the budget, $55,000, was allocated toward improved signage marking the trails. Next was $45,000 for the parking lot and improved lighting for $24,000.

General trail repairs were done for $15,000; new benches as well as recycling and garbage cans were added along the trail pathways for $17,000. Two bike safety centers with a bike pump in case of a flat tire were added along the pathways for $10,000. Blue light emergency poles with a safety kiosk were included for $5,000; as a bonus, and for the poles to be operational, Wi-Fi was installed throughout the trail for $7,500.

The most noticeable change to the Meadows is the two observation decks with a telescope overlooking the Rock River, which cost $27,500. Education platforms were added throughout the trail and on the observation decks so visitors can identify the diverse groups of flowers, insects or birds they may encounter.

Toward the end of the construction phase, the park district discovered some grant money was left over. Rather than sending it back, the district built an “elevated classroom” at the nature center to be used for its environmental education classes, by local schools and homeschool programs, Long said.

The structure resembles a tree house and is ADA-accessible with “a huge long ramp leading up to the top,” he said.

Since the trail opened in April, the parking lot has been almost completely full everyday. “A lot more people are using the trails,” he said, “joggers, bikers, people out walking their dogs.”

Long has worked at the park district for 34 years, and “this is the busiest we’ve ever been,” he said.

About 5 years ago, Long became the executive director. Since then, the park district has been awarded 11 grants.

“Small town park districts rely heavily on grants to function and expand,” he said.

In the next couple of months there is going to be a lot of activity at the park district; coming up are upgrades to the basketball court at Vaile Park, the resurfacing of trails in Page Park in partnership with the city of Dixon and the addition of a sun shade structure for the pickleball courts.

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Payton Felix

Payton Felix

Payton Felix reports on local news in the Sauk Valley for the Shaw Local News Network. She received her Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago in May of 2023.