Centralia Foundation Park
New in 2018
A Centralian by the name of Vern E. Joy can be credited with establishing the Centralia foundation trust. In January 1943, Mr. joy announced after having researched community trust plans used in such cities as Dayton, Cleveland and Chicago, that he believed that a benevolent trust could be set up in Centralia. His initial donation of nine thousand dollars put the corporation into business.
Mr. Joy, the owner of the Centralia Sentinel Newspaper and Chairman of the Centralia Foundation Board, envisioned a place of natural beauty that could benefit both the young and the young at heart. Through his benevolence and enthusiasm for his dream, he encouraged others to participate in what was to become a perpetual gift to the community.
In January of 1946, My. joy purchased and donated parcels of land amounting to seventy-three acres that was located just ten blocks east of downtown Centralia. A second piece of ground was attained in May when Caroline Robnett gave her family farm, which was forty acres that neighbored the Joy ground to the northwest. Dr. Carl Hall donated a thirty-five acre tract of land that lay to the north and east of the two preceding land contributions.
A year later, June of 1947, seven acres were added followed by the public purchase of an additional ten acres at the east end of Broadway. So it began with the merger of these prospective lands; Joy Fields, Robnett park and Carl Hall Park, along with contributed funds that the one hundred and sixty-five acre Centralia Foundation Parks System got its start.
A firm of park architects out of St Louis, Missouri drew up a master plan that would emphasize the natural aspects of the proposed park. Paul Stover, a civil engineer and land surveyor, was asked to do the initial layout for the park roads,.
Under the direction of Mr. Stover, old orchards, eroded farm grounds, briars and thickets were transformed into a lovely park. Paul accompanied by his father, Hollie B. Stover (the city engineer at the time) designed the impressive stone entrance piers,bridges, and numerous rustic shelters found throughout the park. In a letter dated April 3, 1950, Verne Joy wrote this in reference to Hollie and Paul’s involvement…”Had there not been someone to give enthusiastic, practical, materialization to my dreams, the Foundation Park System would have been little more than a cleared area”. He went on to write,”Paul’s aptitude and ability to do damn near anything that I could think up has lead me to the hope and expectation of his making a continuing career out of this” end of quote.
Though Paul continued with his private engineering practice, he did accept the position of Park Superintendent, a job he truly loved.
The early years of the park flourished in part due to the support from the community. The volunteer spirit was quite alive. It seemed that everybody; from local contractors and heavy equipment operators who gave of their time and talents, to area scout troops who's youthful energy was put to work planting trees, were eager to participate. Bob Cover, told of taking his troop out to the park, and under the direction of Mr. Stover, would pick out an overgrown thicket that needed clearing, then tell his scouts, "get to work, this is where we are camping tonight”.
SENTINEL AND MINERS MEMORIAL - The initial park consisted of two stone picnic shelters, Sentinel shelter, that was made possible from donations given by the local newspaper, and the Miners memorial, which was erected as a way of honoring the 111 lives that were lost in the number five mine disaster of 1949.
THE BOWL - A sloping hillside in the Joy Fields portion of the park was an ideal setting for an outdoor amphitheater. A 120 foot log pavilion was built across the top of the hill. The lawn seating area can accommodate upwards of 2000 people.
THE MOOSE OVEN - Around 1949, with a gift from the Moose Lodge of $500, a large stone oven was built, known as the Moose Oven.This quiet, somewhat secluded picnic area is located just to the west of Lucky Stone Creek Bridge in the Robinett section of the park.
CATFISH POND - The 2 acre catfish hole, centered in the Joy Fields portion of the park, was an existing shallow pond that was enlarged and deepened. Another smaller pond, Stover Pool, is located in the Carl Hall Park, just north of Gragg Street. A quaint log shelter, found nestled along the wood line in the northern most drive through the park, is named after its benefactor, Dr. Carl Hall.
After the retirement of Mr. Stover in 1986, David Sachtleben took over the position of Park Superintendent.
CHAPEL IN THE WOODS - One of the first projects conceived by David was the idea of an outdoor chapel. A path was cut into the woods directly across the road fro the Miner’s Memorial Shelter that winds to a small clearing,complete with log benches surrounded by a canopy of trees. This area known as The Chapel in the Woods, is an ideal spot for informal weddings, troop meetings, or other outdoor services.
RESTORED PRAIRIE - An article on the vanishing prairie, written by Judith Joy, sparked an interest in the possible addition of the unique eco-system to the park. After having read the article, David recognized some of he pants mentioned, particularly the Prairie Dock, as already in existence on farm ground, directly to the west of the Centralia Cultural Society. He thought the the idea of a restored prairie would be in keeping with the purpose of the park, both naturalistically and educationally. Over the next couple of years, David pursued this idea through research and trips to the Morton Arboretum near Chicago. He also started contacting local Conservation Departments for advice. It was decided to strive for a prairie that would consist of native plants unique to this region. After compiling a list of prairie seed providers, a natural science teacher by the name of Dr. Peter Schramm, out of Galesburg, Illinois, proved to be an excellent source of all the needed seed and advise as to its planting. An order was placed for a wide selection of prairie seeds of grasses and Forbes. Due to the expense of these somewhat rare seeds (for example prairie false indigo was costing $10 an ounce), the prairie was initially thinly planted, with the hope that over time the plans with multiply and fill in. On June 10, 1989, Gary Potts from the Illinois conservation department, brought out a no-till drill that was used in the actual planting. The first fall showed a somewhat disappointing 95% growth of fox tail and other similar weeds. However, the following year there was little to no sign of the pre-existing weeds, and the Prairie restoration had begun. Over the next couple of years more and more Prairie plants were becoming recognizable, with some varieties taking upwards of 10 years to get established. In nature, seasonal prairie fire's help to keep the balance of grasses and Forbes in line. Our restored Prairie experiences a controlled burn in the spring of every year.
The Restored Prairie can be accessed off of East Rexford. At the end of a circle drive is an informational shelter. Just down the slope from the shelter, guest cross over a rustic covered bridge leading to a path that meanders through the prairie. The quarter mile hike offers a shade covered bench mid-way, to sit and enjoy the view. The prairie presents a continually changing display of native plants. Spring, with the start of new sprouts, summer, when the flowers are in bloom, and fall, when the grasses; Big Blue Stem and Indian Grass, grow to heights of 6 feet. the prairie also provides food and shelter to a variety of wildlife, such as rabbits, quail and red fox.
THE LABYRINTH - In 1999, Centralian, Marilynn McClaskey approached David with the idea of creating a Labyrinth in the park. A labyrinth by description is a symbol of prayer, meditation, and pilgrimage, … a maze of sorts where visitors who walk it are invited to contemplate their own spiritual life journeys, … pausing in its middle to think, listen, and reflect, … then walk out by reversing the journey. The history of this particular labyrinth pattern dates back to the 12th century. A location was decided upon, a flat field just to the south of the Miner’s Memorial Shelter. Here, David set to work painstakingly marking out the 100’ radius circular maze, which consists of a series of 4’ paths that ripple out from the 20’ center. In the fall of 1999, the maze was hand seeded in wheat. That winter saw the Labyrinth literally come to life. The idea had worked and as summer of 2000 approached, the path through the maze of then dried wheat remained clear due to frequent mowing. Word spread of the new maze, and frequent walkers in the park, started using the Labyrinth on a regular basis. In the spring of 2001, the maze was planted with a mixture of perennial wild flower seed. From the entrance to the center is measured at .71 mile, or just under 1.5 miles from entrance to exit.
SPEITH MEADOWS - In the fall of 1993, a parcel of land was given to the Foundation by the Spieth family. The narrow strip of land connects with the parks south and east edge and continues south to the State Route 161, Previously farmed, the meadows were initially seeded in grass, and a graveled roadway leading to a turn-around, accessed off 161 was cut in. A stone pier, similar to the others used throughout the parks, was built at the entrance to the drive. A wide assortment of trees and shrubs have been planted with an emphasis on native species including catalpas, Sycamores, Oaks and Hickories. In the summer of 2002, a pond approximately 12’ deep, was excavated at the not the end of the circle drive. the pond initially stocked with bluegill, sunfish and catfish. Bass were added the next year; bass are a more aggressive-carnivorous fish, by delaying their introduction into the pond,allowed the other fish time to get established.
RESTORED WETLANDS - About 20 yeas ago, the Foundation purchased a parcel of land connecting with the park, Sprehe Fields and accessible off Country Club Road. Various studies were done as to possible uses of the land. Due to the natural lay of the land, along with a trend of preserving and reverting former wetland back to their natural state, the idea of restoring another natural environment into the parks domain, seemed like the right thing to do. A wetlands setting has been recognized for the benefits it offers by way of actin as a ground water filter (nick-named natures kidneys). In the summer of 2002, Ed Braumley a heavy equipment operator out of Beckemyer, IL was hired to do the excavating work on 2 shallow wet-land pools. Mr. Braumley was chosen for the job based on his knowledge of the requirements and experience with previous wetlands projects around the southern portion of the state. These pools, not meant for stockfish, are an intricate part of the unique eco-system. A drainage gate was designed into them to help maintain the water at proper levels. Research into wetlands native to this area included visits to the farm of Richard day, who lives near Salem. He had completed a wetlands restoration for his own use as a nature photographer. His beliefs were that waterfowl, such as ducks, storcks, and herons would, given time, aid in the natural introduction of wetland plants and forbes near and around the ponds, and time has proven this to the true. In addition to grasses and forbes, this area has been heavily planted with trees and shrubs befitting the region. Bald Cypress, whipping willow, grey dogwoods, river birch and a couple different species of Elder, and cranberry. The eastern most pool is accessible via a graveled circle drive off country Club Road.
DISC GOLF COMPLEX - In 2006, a new sport was introduced to our area when the park created a 27-hole (basket) Disc Golf Complex. After much research and visits to other courses, David McCormick, of Gateway Disc Golf St Louis, was approached to design and layout a 9-hole beginner-friendly recreation course and 18 hole professional course. McCormick, who is known for his course designs was excited by the natural beauty and terrain that the park offered. Players come from across the country to play our course. Our course is rated one of the top in the nation, and due to its popularity, another 9 holes have been added, we are now a 36-hole complex, offering 2 completely different 18-hole courses to play.
HARRIS SHELTER - One of our more recent additions is the Harris Shelter, made possible in part by contributions form the Harris family. It is dedicated to the memory of Edgar Harris, Lt. Col., USAF, Lillian Harris and this son Robert Harris, Lt. USN, who was killed in Viet Nam in 1968 while serving his country. This unique 6-sided shelter has become one of the most favored picnic spots in the park. Located overlooking the Catfish Pond to the west and the Bowl to the north, it features a center fire pit, and access to electricity. There is another grill near the outside of the shelter along with restroom facilities.
PAUL STOVER ARBORETUM - From the beginning development of the Centralia Foundation Park, an emphasis has been on promoting a natural environment that included the planting of a wide variety of trees. By definition, an arboretum is a plot of land devoted to the planting of trees and shrubs, therefore, the park has always had the attributes of an arboretum. In May of 2018, due to the installation of tree identification signs, the park is officially calling it's collection an arboretum. Specimen trees have been tagged with a sign that lists it’s common name, botanical name and its tree family. In addition, each tree sign has its own QR code where upon scanning, will take the user to a web page that has more detailed information about that particular tree
The Arboretum is named in memory and honor of Paul Stover, the civil engineer who was instrumental in the design and physical development of the park. He supervised the construction of park roads and drafted plans for the stone entrance piers and shelters.
In keeping with the original vision of an all-natural park, Mr. Stover deliberately selected a diverse collection of trees and supervised their planting to further enhance the park’s beauty. After the initial completion of the park, Mr. Stover continued as Park Superintendent for forty years until his retirement in 1986.
INVASIVES - An ongoing effort to control invasive plants consumes a large amount of the time throughout the year. By cutting, chipping, and spraying the stumps or young plants, the park is slowly gaining ground but realize it is an ongoing problem. Some of the plants that were advised to plant by the Conservation Department in the 40’s -50’s -and 60’s are now recognized as the invasive that are battled today. Others like Burning Bush Euonymus and Bradford Pears, although invasive are still being sold.
Since its conception, the Centralia Foundation Parks System has continued to grow and evolve. The park now encompasses close to 300 acres. Along with the every day repairs and maintenance, improvements are carried out on an ongoing basis. Throughout the park, you’ll find an emphasis on maintaining a natural appearance.
The Centralia Foundation Parks System is known as one of the finest natural park in downstate Illinois, and thanks to a group of dedicated individuals, the Centralia Foundation Board of Directors the park will continue to grow and flourish.