DECATUR – The animals of Scovill Zoo staged a massive coup, moving en masse across the lake to a mischief-riddled patch of Nelson Park.
Feeling the community spirit, one of the lemurs builds a replica of the Transfer House out of stones and sticks. Spider monkeys spray water into a bucket. Squirrels clamber over a golf cart. Impressively, a zebra balances on a camel’s back, brandishing a pair of Decatur-made Perry suspenders in its mouth.
The animals’ exploits become open to the public today with the opening of the Overlook Adventure Mini Golf course at 10 a.m. The course is located near U.S. 36 at 2501 E. Nelson Park Road.
A key piece of the Decatur Park District’s long-term lakefront development plan, the miniature golf course and accompanying clubhouse represent nearly a year of construction and more than $3 million in costs.
The course is the first portion of what plans call the Overlook Adventure Park portion of the lakefront development, known as Lakeshore Landing. Officials hope it could be followed by an outdoor aquatic facility, climbing wall, ropes course, batting cages and playground.
Bill Clevenger, executive director of the park district, said its board and staff have committed to the lakefront plan and would not allow it to become another proposal that “sits on a shelf.” The miniature golf course and accompanying facility are a great first step, he said.
“There's nothing like this in Central Illinois. It's unique,” Clevenger said. “I think that makes a statement for this whole overall lakefront development, Lakeshore Landing project. It is going to be quality. It is going to be exciting. It is going to be uniquely Decatur.”
Work on the clubhouse remains ongoing, with CherryBerry and Ted’s Taters restaurants set to open later this summer, Clevenger said.
However, the miniature golf portion and accessible restrooms are ready to go today. Park district officials had hoped the course would open several months earlier, but wet weather wreaked havoc with the construction schedule.
Visitors can play 18 of the 36 holes for $6.50 for those older than 13, $5.50 for ages 4 to 12 and free for children younger than 3. A second game costs $4.50.
Weekly specials are available, too. Two adults can play for the price of one on Thursdays, and on Sundays, four golfers can play for $20. Children must be younger than 12, and one adult must be present.
Summer hours for the course are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and Saturdays, and noon to 10 p.m. Sundays.
Park district commissioners, staff, their families and members of the media received a sneak peek of the course earlier this week. Commissioner Chris Riley said he couldn’t wait to hear the public’s comments on the course, which he praised in glowing terms.
Officials continue to hope that the course could spur some private investment in the lakefront. Planners always envisioned a tapestry of public and private funding sources for the amenities, but no private monetary donations have materialized since park district and city officials agreed on the plan in 2011.
GSI Group LLC of Assumption donated two grain bins to the miniature golf course, one of which will be rented out as the “Party Bin” for special events.
“There are still things happening around Nelson, but I think this is going to be the big draw that helps draw people in,” Riley said. “People are going to start planning parties out here and having a good time, and I think it's going to be a snowball effect.”
After playing through the course, park board President Jack Kenny offered some advice: Be aggressive when putting. The greens are much slower than they are on an actual golf course, he said.
While Kenny said the course was wonderful, he worried that the distinctive animals could become a target for vandalism. The district plans to protect the course with a fence, lighting and a network of security cameras.
“We've done about everything I think we can do,” Kenny said. “I think we've taken appropriate measures, but you just can't be here 24 hours a day.”
Clevenger said that in addition to the surveillance cameras and other measures, the park district staff would reach out to neighbors and ask them to keep an eye on the course. It is also highly visible to drivers from U.S. 36.
“The best thing you can have are eyes and ears watching,” he said.
As for the park district's former miniature golf course, Paul's Puttin' Place, the lakefront master plan designates that the area will one day become the home of a new children's garden. The exact schedule and funding for that project are unclear.
Remnants of the former course are slated to be removed this summer. Clevenger said park district employees must remove the old green carpet by hand so that the concrete underneath can be recycled. Until now, those employees have been tied up with work to open the new course, he said.
For parties, group rates and other questions, call Overlook Adventure Mini Golf at (217) 422-2316.