Conservatory and park district hit fundraising goal for Elsie Jacobsen garden project

The Friends of the Oak Park Conservatory and the village’s park district have secured the funding piece for a forthcoming “hands-on nature area” through a recently awarded state grant.

The $146,000 contribution, a Public Museum Capital Grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, will go toward the completion of the Elsie Jacobsen Discovery Garden, an outdoor space currently in planning that will invite “both children and adults to explore nature in all seasons.”

“This shows how much the people of Oak Park treasure the Conservatory,” said FOPCON Executive Director Beth Cheng. “We thank them for their enthusiasm and largesse.”

The garden will include nooks and paths which will provide an opportunity “to observe, touch and interact with plants and natural materials, through self-guided activities and facilitated programs.” The garden will also feature a water installation and a variety of plants “native to or hardy in northern Illinois.”

Slated to be located on the East Avenue side of the conservatory, at 615 Garfield Street, the 3,000-square-foot garden is being built in dedication of Elsie Jacobsen, a community activist who was instrumental in reviving the conservatory after it had fallen into disrepair in the early 1960s. Jacobsen, a former District 200 School Board president, also helped found the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust, the Oak Park- River Forest Historical Society and the Oak Park Council for Foreign Affairs. She passed in 2003.

Announced on July 23, the grant is funded through the Illinois Jobs Now! Capital Program, a spending project of the IDNR which aims to direct $20 million toward the improvement of museum facilities and the development of new exhibits through out the state.

“Museums play a vital role in helping students, families, and visitors to Illinois better understand the culture, history, and natural heritage of local communities and of our state,” said IDNR Director Marc Miller.

Conservatory Manager Scott Stewart said that the funding, along with private donations made to the conservatory’s capital campaign, would help complete a project that—in addition to honoring Jacobsen—would “highlight the use of water-wise, pollinator-friendly, native, and similar ecological groupings in small demonstration gardens.”

Designs for the project, initiated in 2008, were drafted by landscape architecture firm Altamanu Inc. Work on the Elsie Jacobsen Discovery Garden is expected be take place next summer.

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