Sad Walk in the Park at Veteran Acres Park

I wanted to start off a new feature for McHenry Life…a “walk around” photolog format. Let’s face it, there are times when we all just want a little visual treat. After dropping my son off for the first day of summer camp, I figured there would be no better way to start this feature off than a walk around the pond at Veteran Acres Park…and yes, it’s actually Veteran Acres Park rather than Veterans Acres Park. You may have noticed that we feature a number of photos from Veteran Acres as part of McHenry Life already.

It holds a special place in our hearts.

I had heard there had been some clearing around the pond at Veteran Acres, but nothing prepared me for what I saw when I reached the bottom of the path. My understanding from what I’ve seen and assumptions is that this was all, unfortunately, necessary.

I was initially going to just post photos as originally planned, without added context, that seemed a disservice to all.

Veteran Acres Park, 431 Walkup Rd, Crystal Lake, IL 60012

I reached out to Jason Herbster, Executive Director for the Crystal Lake Park District, for insight into what had happened as well as what might be in the plans for the pond area at Veteran Acres Park. I greatly appreciate his time and prompt response, which I’ve encapsulated below:

You are correct that this was necessary. The trees that were removed were deemed in severe decline. These trees were identified as needing to be removed before they became a significant safety hazard, potentially causing harm to people and/or property.

To address the concerns of park users, Valarie Roberts, Parks Grounds Supervisor shared some insight on the Willow Trees near the Veteran Acres pond bridge:

  1. All 4 Willow Trees were showing signs of decline and a lot of dead wood in amongst the green branches.
    • One had already split and fallen towards the small island to the west.
  2. Reasons why the trees were declining:
    • Age: In file photos from the late 1960’s you can see the mature Willows. This would date the trees at 50 plus years of age. Most Weeping Willow trees in this area live around 50 years. In the most ideal conditions, they can live up to 75 years.
    • Contributing factors to non-ideal conditions:
      • Drought of 2012
      • Polar vortex in 2019
      • Excessive rain in 2018, 2019, 2020
      • Weeks being underwater last year:
        • Weeping Willows grow very fast—up to 10 feet per year, until reaching a height of up to 50 feet.
        • Fast growth equals bad crotches and weak wood which means the trees are more susceptible to breakage and rot.
        • These trees have been showing signs of decay and decline for numerous years.

A contributing factor to the look of the area right now is the drought conditions we are currently experiencing. The low water level of the pond makes things look not as nice as they would if the pond was at a normal level.

We hope to begin adding native vegetation as soon as time and budget permits.

We will do our best to upgrade the aesthetics of the pond area, but it is first and foremost a stormwater detention basin masquerading as a naturalized pond. The water level is dependent upon rain and is ultimately controlled by the City of Crystal Lake via a pump.

While many like the willow trees, the area along the pond is not ideal for that type of tree. The shrubs and trees will have to be able to withstand fluctuating water levels. Species like buttonbush, witch hazel, or arrow-wood viburnum would be shrubs that would be considered for that area and swamp white oak would be a suitable tree. 

Thank you again, Jason and team, for taking the time to provide some insight, as well as providing the two photos below for historical reference of the willow tree growth and maturity. Get more Veteran Acres Park information, including a trail map.

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I’m sure many of you feel as gutted about this as we do. We kick ourselves for not getting over to the park more last year than we had…ironically, with everyone home in response to COVID, we spent more time taking family walks around our neighborhood than elsewhere. In that way, it serves as a poignant reminder not to take anything for granted.

Let me leave you with three things…

First, I have no expertise in this area…so I fully trust that the Crystal Lake Parks District did what they felt was necessary. We must remember that they have to balance safety along with everything else, and I would be even more gutted should something have happened to anyone had they not taken the action they felt was needed. As stewards of the parks and nature, I have no doubt that they were as or more pained by the decision that had to be made than anyone. Even more so having to take proactive action for safety reasons.

Second, life and change are fluid. Sadly, it doesn’t always go the way we would hope. We must appreciate what we have today. We can work to improve for tomorrow, which in this case, we must also recognize that some of the things we may have loved most about the pond area, were never ideal, to begin with.

Third, don’t miss out on the amazing beauty that is still all around the pond and the park in general, trying to hang on to the past. While it was easy on my walk around the pond to focus on what was lost, by taking a little extra time and making a little extra effort to see what was still there, I could still appreciate the amazing beauty that was still right in front of me…as long as I stopped to look. I think that’s a metaphor for life in general.

While a little disheartening, I hope there were some photos in there that made you smile. That was about half the photos from around the pond. For anyone wondering, I did see a few turtles and snapped a couple photos, but nothing was clear enough to really see them…hopefully next time.

Ok…while I did talk about looking forward, at least in the moment, here’s one look back.

Huge weeping willow tree over bridge at Veteran Acres Park.
Huge weeping willow over the bridge at Veteran Acres Park; August 2014.

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President and Founder of Identity Developments, LLC, the parent company of the McHenry Life website. My hope for McHenry Life is to create a resource and destination for the residents and businesses of McHenry County alike. A place where residents can discover new places to explore, fun events and ways to spend time, and then share those experiences with others. A place where businesses can connect with existing and potential customers, and not simply market their businesses, but share their own unique stories.

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