Long-awaited transformation of former Vulcan Lakes opens to public Friday

The Three Oaks Recreation Area buildings and paths take shape July 21.
The Three Oaks Recreation Area buildings and paths take shape July 21.
Click here for a slide show of the construction of Three Oaks Recreation Area

CRYSTAL LAKE – The opening of Three Oaks Recreation Area on Friday has created a buzz of excitement even though only a portion of the $14.37 million park’s facilities will be available to the public this fall.

The park is scheduled to open for the first time at 6:30 a.m. Friday. A dedication ceremony will take place at 4 p.m. that day.

Due to the amount of interest in the recreation area, city officials are working on a plan to address possible traffic issues on opening day, Deputy City Manager Eric Helm said. Entrances are on Route 14 and Main Street.

“I have heard from a lot of people who plan to be there at 6:30 a.m.,” Crystal Lake Mayor Aaron Shepley said. “I think anglers especially are [eager] to test the waters.”

The beach, Three Oaks’ main attraction, will not open until the summer of 2011. Several other amenities still are under construction. Throughout October, crews will continue to work on the volleyball courts, sled hill, and erosion-control efforts on the north slope.

Fishing is expected to be the highlight of the fall offerings, city officials said. The former gravel pits that make up the two lakes on the 500-acre property were stocked with fish more than a decade ago.

“It looks like the fish are unbelievable,” said John Milano, vice president of the Crystal Lake Anglers, a group that helped the city during the design process.

Fishing had been prohibited at the site, formerly known as Vulcan Lakes, for many years. However, the Crystal Lake Anglers have had access to the area to check on fish populations.

Anglers can expect to see largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, yellow bass, rock bass, channel catfish, northern pike, walleye and panfish. And they can expect to be able to reel some in from the banks of the recreation area, Milano said.

In addition, there are some sunken islands, which can be accessed by boat, that offer prime fishing. Two marinas with a fleet of 28 rowboats with trolling motors – in addition to sailboats, kayaks, canoes, and paddle boats – will serve those who want to spend time on the water. Rowboat rental fees start at $12 for two hours. Trolling motors, extra batteries, and fish locaters cost extra.

All fishing will be catch-and-release, at least for this season.

There is no entrance fee for the marinas, but nonresidents will have to pay $5 to park and will be charged more expensive boat rental fees. Row boat rental fees for nonresidents start at $15 for two hours. Parking and entrance to all areas of the facility is free for Crystal Lake residents.

Hikers and bikers will find plenty to do at Three Oaks Recreation Area, which has 28 acres of native plantings and several vistas with views of the entire park. A playground with swings and other equipment also will be open this fall. The splash park won’t open until next summer.

Visitors can spend time in the picnic grove. It has a 2,000-square-foot pavilion and fireplace located in a larger grass picnic grounds. On Oct. 1, the city will begin accepting reservations for the picnic grove, Helm said. Users can bring in their own food or buy food at the concessions stand, which is operated by Culver’s of Crystal Lake.

The Crystal Lake City Council has budgeted $295,469 to operate Three Oaks through April 30, 2011. That will pay for about 30 part-time employees. Fees charged to nonresidents are expected to offset a portion of the operational costs.

Depending on the weather, Three Oaks will remain open through the end of October. The facility will be open from 6:30 a.m. to sunset seven days a week.

Bonds issued to pay for the $14.37 million facility will be repaid with revenue from the city’s home rule sales tax.

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