DECATUR — Gov. Pat Quinn came to Nelson Park on Saturday to announce a $400,000 state grant that would contribute to the lakefront development there.
The money, to be matched by about $500,000 from the Decatur Park District, would pay for renovations to the park’s two WPA-era pavilions, a mountain biking trail, exercise stations near the existing fitness trail, restoration of 10 acres with native prairie plants and a bioswale, which is a natural drainage area that is designed to reduce soil erosion.
“We believe in renewing the spirit and having good parks, and good nature areas all across Illinois,” Quinn said. “It’s very important for stirring the soul and making sure all of our people have a chance to go somewhere after work.”
Decatur Park District Board President Chris Riley said the money would significantly aid the lakefront development project, which officials approved in 2011.
The long-range plan was always expected to include funding from a variety of sources, including city and park district funds, state and federal grants and private donations.
Donations, however, have not yet materialized. Riley said he hoped the new improvements might create momentum that could encourage donors and developers.
“I think there’s been so many lakefront studies, lake studies, and then they just kind of dropped off. I am sure there are people in the community that thought this was another one that would drop off,” Riley said.
Construction on the latest projects is expected to begin this summer in Nelson Park.
Quinn’s stop in Decatur on Saturday was one of several throughout Illinois to announce $15.3 million worth of grants through the state’s Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development program. Grants from that program, which began in 1986, are funded solely through a percentage of the real estate transfer tax.
Peter Murphy, executive director of the Illinois Association of Park Districts, said the money helps contribute to quality of life in communities throughout the state.
“When people come to a community, they say, ‘What are the schools like?’ No. 1, and No. 2, they say, ‘What’s your park system like?’ ” he said.
Lincoln received a $400,000 grant to pay for a new family aquatic center. Marcia Greenslate, executive director of the Lincoln Park District, said its pool has been closed since 2011.
“We’re just thrilled to death,” she said. “We miss the kids, and I so look forward to the kids dragging their towels in their swimsuits, coming out to see us.”
Quinn declined to answer questions on other topics, though he did briefly say he believed lawmakers could come to a solution in the next three weeks.