by Dave Noble, City News Editor
ELMHURST – Donning a safari hat, an overly-starched khaki trail shirt, and a pair of rather-short khaki shorts, Elmhurst Park District Executive Director James Rogers told reporters trespassing inside a heavily-wooded area in unincorporated Yorkfield on Wednesday that the 3.4-acre former trailer park – once considered the “Gateway to Elmhurst” – will be transformed into an animal sanctuary where visitors can observe, interact with and learn about some of the common mammals that inconveniently inhabit Elmhurst and intrude upon the everyday lives of local residents.
The “Elmhurst Animal Kingdom” – scheduled to be completed by next summer – will feature bewildering creatures such as coyotes, foxes and skunks that are increasingly seen roaming throughout town after failing to adapt to the ever-changing environment of Elmhurst. Animals captured by residents or park district staff will be safely transported to the property at 0S761 Old York Road and released into the sanctuary, joining hundreds of their furry friends in a parcel of land recently purchased by the park district for only $500,000 more than what it was sold for six months earlier. After paying a general admission fee ($3 residents/$23 non-residents), visitors can enjoy a guided tour of the grounds in an open air safari train, or venture out on their own “into the wild” for a more intimate experience with some of the intimidating species that frighten and disrupt Elmhurst humans and their pets.
“This will be a destination spot for tourists, school field trips and wedding parties,” said Rogers, who believes that the dog-friendly sanctuary’s late hours (open daily from 11:00 a.m. until midnight) and open alcohol policy will attract visitors of all ages and coherences.” And at the same time, we’re ridding the town of these beasts that are slowly taking over Elmhurst.”
While numerous details such as thrill rides, concession stands and merchandising rights have yet to be resolved, Rogers stated that the park district’s first priority is to work with agencies such as The Illinois Department of Transportation, the Explore Elmhurst Trolley and Uber to figure out how an expected 5,000 daily visitors can get to and from the sanctuary.
“We’re hoping IDOT will allow vehicles and buses to park on the shoulder of Roosevelt Road for a few hours at a time,” continued Rogers, who has also contacted the Elmhurst Police Department about potential drop-offs and pick-ups on the York St. exit ramp near the southeast corner of the property. “The last thing we want to do is disrupt the neighborhood.”
The designation for use of the land came after a public discussion on July 27th at the stately Butterfield Park Recreational Building, where a formidable group of two dozen residents suggested frivilous ideas such as a dog park, a playground or a sledding hill. “The dog park was a ‘no-go’ for sure,” said Rogers, who indicated that up to 75% of park district staff would resign from their position if they were required to maintain the grounds of a dog park. “And none of the other ideas had any real pizzazz.”
The park district also plans to build a 2,500 square-foot laboratory on the property and hire a small team of scientists to perform genetic experiments on the animals.