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DECATUR — As progress continues at the site of Nelson Park's $4.25 million amphitheater, the Decatur Park District worked to beautify its surrounding area Wednesday with a little help from the Young Professionals of Caterpillar. 

About 12 members of the Fortune 100 company's employee resource group joined park district grounds workers to plant 27 trees in the medians of the amphitheater's parking lot. According to Josh McGrath, the district's horticulture supervisor, said more trees and shrubbery are planned. 

He said the trees planted Wednesday are paperbark maples, non-flowering crabapples, tree lilacs and Persian ironwoods. "It'll take probably three years to really be able to see what (the trees) are going to look like," he said. 

Decatur Parks Foundation Director Jill Applebee said the district purchased the trees with a $25,000 grant from CN Railroad that it received in June 2017. The district matched the grant, and Applebee said the $50,000 will allow for 240 trees to be planted throughout Decatur's parks. 

The participation of the Young Professionals on Wednesday was a part of the district's ongoing attempts to collaborate with corporate partners, Applebee said. She said the group, which aims to develop Caterpillar's young employees through community service and other activities, reached out to the district about opportunities to help. 

"We just try to fit whatever niche they're doing, and if it's possible with our staff, we'll make it happen," Applebee said. 

Alicia Bishop, Caterpillar section manager and community service committee chair for the Young Professionals, said the group will partner with the park district for the rest of the year. They'll help out with other projects and activities, she said, such as the district's summer lunch program and the Big Obstacle 3K fundraiser.

"These trees are going to be here for many years to come, and we get to put our mark on that," Bishop said. "That's pretty cool."

Meanwhile, Director of Operations Ryan Raleigh said construction crews are continuing work at the amphitheater's future home near the parking lot. Despite the "challenges" that bad weather has created for many of the district's projects and activities, he said the crews are moving along as best as they can. 

The amphitheater, which was funded by a grant from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, has been a major aspect of the district's lakefront development plans since 2014. In recent weeks, contractor Christy-Foltz Inc. has worked to install footings and walls for the venue's seating areas and have made progress on the stage's infrastructure, he said.  

"The underground conduits for electrical and plumbing is in, and they're getting ready to pour the floors of two outpost buildings," Raleigh said. "Right now, it's just a lot of the concrete and footing work."

Officials previously said the project was slated for completion by July 29, but on Wednesday, Raleigh said he did not have an exact timeline for construction going forward.

"Obviously, as we get out of this spring weather and get some more stable weather, (contractors) can re-evaluate where they are," he said. "(Then) we'll have a much better idea if we'll still push for a fall concert or one in the spring of next year."

As for the Overlook Adventure Park aquatics center, another major aspect of the lakefront development plans, Raleigh said district staff hope to present work bids for the project to the park board at its next meeting. The bids have been received, he said, but officials are still analyzing the cost and whether there are other ways to save money. 

Young Professionals Fred Tolin, Rachel Lutz and Raheel Chaudhry said they look forward to when they can return to the Nelson Park's completed amenities and see the fruits of their labor grow to become fixtures. 

"We can come back and be like, 'I did that,'" Chaudhry said of the trees. 

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jcook@herald-review.com | (217) 421-7980

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Public Safety Reporter

Public safety reporter for the Herald & Review.

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