Kenosha County under County Executive Jim Kreuser has made improvements and enhancements to its parks a top priority when it comes to further improving the community’s quality of life.
“When I came into office in 2008, I saw that our county parks system was not being used to its fullest potential,” Kreuser said. “I told my staff then and I continue to tell them that it should be our goal to wear out the grass in our parks. We want to see them full of people, year-round, enjoying activities and taking in the natural beauty.”
To that end, Kenosha County has embarked on numerous improvements and a series of notable public-private partnerships that have brought new activities and programming into the parks.
Kreuser notes that as much of this as possible is done without additional taxpayer funding.
“We actively seek out grants from the state and federal governments and other organizations, looking to leverage as many resources as we can to make our parks system that much stronger,” Kreuser said. “In some cases — like the Petrifying Springs Biergarten — we’re actually bringing additional revenue into our coffers, along with new amenities that have quickly become community favorites.”
Here’s an around-the-horn look at how those efforts have played out at various locations in the Kenosha County Parks system:
Petrifying Springs Park
Considered the flagship of the Kenosha County Parks system, this is the oldest and most frequently visited county park.
Recent improvements include the aforementioned Petrifying Springs Biergarten, which opened in 2017 in a partnership between the county and local businessmen Mike Grab and Tony DeBartolo.
Grab and DeBartolo invested more than $90,000 in improvements to convert the southernmost pavilion in the park into the Biergarten, which offers authentic German and local craft beers, bratwurst, pretzels and other snacks. Live entertainment and various family activities are often scheduled, along with an annual Oktoberfest celebration and other events, including those that benefit the Boys & Girls Club of Kenosha and other charities.
A gross revenue share that the county receives from the Biergarten is earmarked to fund park improvements. Last year, it aided in the construction of a new ball diamond, storage facility and year-round restroom building located near the Biergarten and the Carlisle Family Dog Park.
“The Biergarten itself was a popular addition to Petrifying Springs Park, and now it’s helped to pay for other improvements that even more park users will enjoy for many years to come,” said Kenosha County Parks Director Matthew Collins.
Petrifying Springs is also the site of an ongoing project to improve the region’s ecology.
The multiphase Pike River streambank and wetland restoration project began in 2018 and will continue in future years.
The Phase 1 project, which benefitted from grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the Fund for Lake Michigan, is aimed at restoring and preserving the Pike River watershed, ultimately feeding cleaner water into Lake Michigan.
“This is a win-win for our environment and our quality of life, which is enhanced so much by the natural resources around us,” Kreuser said.
Other improvements to Petrifying Springs, conducted earlier in Kreuser’s tenure, included the removal of a dam on the Pike River, reconstruction of the main road through the park and the addition of a multiuse trail that now runs through the park and all the way to Highway KR, via a boardwalk that crosses the Pike just north of Highway A.
Kenosha County Parks’ only location on the shore of Lake Michigan, Kemper Center is home to the Anderson Arts Center, a historic mansion that recently reopened after a yearlong renovation.
Open to the public for art exhibitions, concerts and other special events, the arts center now features new, ADA-compliant restrooms, a state-of-the-art geothermal heating and cooling system and updated gallery spaces. The project was conducted with great attention to historical accuracy, culminating with the preservation of what has been called a jewel on Kenosha’s lakefront.
The project was funded jointly by Kenosha County and the City of Kenosha.
“This work ensures that the Anderson Arts Center will grace our lakefront for generations to come,” Kreuser said. “I thank the mayor for his support, and the great project team that orchestrated a first-class restoration of this historic building.”
While it is owned by Kenosha County, the Kemper Center property is managed by the private, nonprofit Kemper Center Inc., which offers cultural programming, event rentals and artist studio space in the historic buildings that once housed Kemper Hall, an Episcopalian girls’ boarding school.
Bristol Woods Park
Long home to another partnership between Kenosha County and another nonprofit entity, Pringle Nature Center, Bristol Woods Park gained a new partner and a unique amenity in 2019.
Boundless Adventures is an aerial adventure course that selected Bristol Woods to be its first location in the Midwest. The course, designed with sensitivity to its heavily wooded environment, occupies six acres of the 200-acre park and features nine treetop obstacle courses that include 20 ziplines and more than 100 bridges and rope challenges for people of all skill levels.
While users must pay to experience the adventure course, through the county’s agreement with Boundless Adventures, there are free climb events for military veterans and their families, participants in the county’s summer employment program for at-risk youth, and others.
“We asked Boundless Adventures to give back to the community, and they’ve been terrific partners,” Kreuser said. “They’ve developed an experience that is completely unique to our region and is another one of those value-added amenities for our parks system.
Meantime, the nonprofit Pringle Nature Center continues its programming at Bristol Woods, providing environmental education to school groups, youth organizations, families and adults. The woods within the park include more than four miles of trails available for bird and wildlife observation, nature walks, hiking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Silver Lake Park
This park has long been and continues to be well-known for its popular beach. But more recent improvements have also made it a mecca for mountain bikers.
Through a partnership with the Kenosha Area Mountain Bike Association, more than 10 miles of single-track and multi-use trails are maintained for competitive and recreational mountain biking, hiking and cross-country skiing. The park also includes a premier 18-hole disc golf course.
x River Park
Speaking of disc golf, that has become one of the calling cards of another one of Kenosha County’s oldest parks, Fox River Park.
This park is home to 27 holes of disc golf with multiple levels of challenge, from beginner to expert.
Located alongside the river for which its named, Fox River Park is also a stop on the Fox River Water Trail, an 11-mile marked course for canoers and kayakers that includes four launch sites maintained by the county.
The most recent major improvement to Fox River Park came in 2018, with the opening of the Fox River Overnight Lodge. This project, undertaken with the help of community volunteers, transformed a former park superintendent’s residence on the park grounds into a facility that provides overnight camp accommodations for scouts and other civic groups.
The lodge sleeps up to 22 people and offers amenities including a large multipurpose room with tables and chairs, a kitchen, bunkbeds and an outdoor fire pit. It is available for use by qualified nonprofit and community-based organizations.
“This is another great, unique amenity that Kenosha County Parks is able to offer,” Collins said.
Kenosha County Veterans Memorial Park
Kenosha County’s newest park — now with a new name and mission — remains a work in progress, Kreuser said.
The county executive’s budget for 2020, adopted by the County Board in November, included a provision to rename the park formerly known informally as “KD Park” as the Kenosha County Veterans Memorial Park.
“The Kenosha County Veterans Memorial Park will stand as a tribute for the service and sacrifices of those who are serving and those who have served,” Kreuser said.
In his budget address, Kreuser noted the importance of memorializing veterans in a complementary way with the serene, natural sanctuary of the park. Under a long-term plan developed several years ago and which still remains in place, the park is to be developed with an emphasis on environmental sustainability.
“The sustainable nature of the park is in perfect harmony with how our veterans have sustained our nation,” Kreuser said.
The 334-acre park, on the site of a formal gravel quarry on Highway KD, includes a 39-acre lake that is available for use by kayakers, canoers and others in nonmotorized boats. More than four miles of trails have been established, and plans for future amenities — including a tribute to veterans — remain in development.
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