There is plenty of work that awaits Allerton Park and Retreat Center staff each and every year as it maintains the 1,500-acre facility and 100-plus year old buildings.
At the same time, officials continue to make progress on dreams spelled out in the 2015 master plan.
Park Director Derek Peterson told interested parties in an annual update on June 4 that they are getting pretty good at doing the routine and dreamwork simultaneously.
“We don’t think the future is limited here at Allerton,” said Peterson. “I think we’ve got a very bright future ahead of us, and with community support, with engaged staff I think we can keep this thing going the right direction for a really long time.”
For the next 10 years, the focus will be on transforming the visitor center area into a site that will be more engaging to the public. That includes the current conversion of the seldom noticed ice house along Old Timber Road – currently used for storage and maintenance – into an artist-in-residence site. Another in-residence space is planned a few years down the road when a neighboring maintenance building is also renovated.
The ice house work will start a domino effect as park offices will be moved from the Regency building adjacent to the visitor center into a portion of the Evergreen Lodge, the visitor center goes to the Regency, and the Evergreen Cafe expands into more of the current visitor center.
Streetscape work – likely around 2026 – will complete the visitor center complex conversion into it’s own village, complete with interactive activities for those of all ages. Cafe expansion is scheduled to run through the year 2028.
Peterson said the engagement aspect overshadows all, and fits in with the purpose of the property donated to the University of Illinois by Robert Allerton in 1946.
“This place started as a gift. It’s going to take donations, it’s going to take giving, it’s going to take people volunteering, it’s going to take a community to take it to the next level, so we need to embrace that idea and keep going with it,” said Peterson.
To support those plans, the revenue stream provided by donations, endowments and overnight stays in the mansion and park’s 41 hotel rooms will need to be furthered.
Concurrent with the visitor center work are plans to upgrade rooms in the 1903 mansion, which will include a consistent décor that has strayed from the original as items have needed repair or replacement.
“Our plan is to create rooms that can be endowed (funded), as well as an opportunity for more consistent furnishings, everything from light fixtures to lamps. Right now it’s all kind of mismatched and thrown together,” said Allerton Retreat Center Manager Jordan Zech.
Work on the rooms will begin soon and take several years to complete, depending on funding that is secured.
The audience of around 20 who gathered for the update in the Allerton Mansion library provided input after Peterson’s talk ended. Suggestions included tying some park activities into local, state and national history; and making sure the community has an understanding of the activity and efforts going on at the park.
“One thing that might need improvement is the overall area of communication,” commented park volunteer Sandy Haas. “I hear all the great things, but people out there don’t know about it. A lot of people know about Allerton, but don’t know about these great plans that have been put in place.”
Peterson tended to agree, saying staff sometimes does not “celebrate our successes” enough, pointing to the expansion of summer youth camps, gardening projects with area groups and elementary school children, and the seven-year-old concert series.
“We’ve had a really good year at Allerton. Again, it’s thanks to a lot of you in the room, thanks to my staff, thanks to board members, and I’m really proud what we’ve built to this point,” said Peterson.
The Allerton Park and Retreat Center master plan can be viewed at www.allerton.illinois.edu.