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Three Oaks Makes a Splash

Fun in the sun, sand and nature is close to home with the first summer season of Three Oaks Recreation Area in Crystal Lake now in full swing.

The response to Three Oaks Recreation Area in Crystal Lake, which opened last fall, has been overwhelmingly positive and it hasn’t even been operating for a full season yet. As expected, big crowds turned out for the beach opening on Memorial Day weekend.

“The reception has been incredible – we had more than 18,000 visitors last year in our first three months of operation,” said Eric T. Helm, Crystal Lake’s deputy city manager.

The 500-acre park and two lakes – bordered by Main Street, Route 14, Rakow Road and Pingree Road – offer recreation for all ages and interests. Three Oaks is truly a getaway close to home with swimming, a playground/spray park, concessions, rowboats, canoes, kayaks, paddleboats, picnicking, fishing, hiking and more.

“The fishing is excellent and the hiking trails provide scenic views of the lake and several islands,” Helm said. “Due to the scenery, visitors feel like they are in northern Wisconsin or Minnesota.”

All of this is available at a small cost to visitors. Crystal Lake residents park and enjoy the beach for free while nonresidents pay $5 to park and $10 per adult (16 and older); $6 per senior (62 and older); and $6 per child (4-15 years) for access to the swim beach. Ages 3 and under are free. Discounted rates are available after 4 p.m. All patrons pay a rental fee for the use of rowboats, canoes, kayaks and paddleboats. Vehicular and bicycle entrances on Main Street and Route 14 offer convenient access.

Future Opportunities
There is so much interest in Three Oaks and its potential that guests are already brainstorming new features they’d like added to the park – from scuba diving and wakeboarding to iceskating and music festivals. Helm said the city is beginning to look into the options to determine the impact they would have on the property. Maintaining a natural, eco-friendly setting is a key objective.

“We value the water quality and natural surroundings,” Helm said. “The city is interested in maintaining the fishing quality and keeping the water clean. The area is a restored quarry, so the city would like to continue to restore this property as a natural place.”

Keeping it Real
The focus on maintaining Three Oaks’ natural beauty and conservation began during the planning and building phases and will remain a central focus as it evolves.

“We have several pavilions that utilize solar-powered lighting,” Helm said. “In addition, we have numerous rain gardens and bioswales, which clean the storm water before it enters the lake or groundwater.”

Many of the quarry stones were reused to construct the amenities, including gravel for the hiking trails, beach sand and other stone fill. In addition, more than 28 acres are in the process of being restored with native prairie flowers; 22,843 trees, shrubs and native plants are being planted.

Great Addition to a Great City
The park is a boon to the community – and county – at large. The revenue estimate for the 2011 season is approximately $200,000, according to Helm, which offsets operational expenses such as salaries, utilities and equipment.

“This park is being used to promote the City of Crystal Lake as a great place to live, visit and do business,” he said. “New businesses that would like to locate in Crystal Lake have taken an interest in the area due to the new park.”
Fish Species Found in Three Oaks Recreation Area lakes:

• Largemouth Bass/Smallmouth Bass

• Yellow Bass/Rock Bass 

• Channel Catfish

• Northern Pike

• Walleye

• Pan Fish, including Bluegill and Yellow Perch

–Source: Illinois Department of Natural Resources

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