Small park on state-owned land near Gunnison-Laramie in Jefferson Park is in the works, as volunteers for nearby Olive’s Neighborhood Garden for the Hungry working with NeighborSpace
by BRIAN NADIG
Plans are in the works for a 3,500-square-foot park on a state-owned lot in Jefferson Park near the southeast corner of Gunnison Street and Laramie Avenue, where a house was removed 70 years ago for the construction of the Kennedy Expressway.
The triangular-shaped lot, which includes a variety of plantings and a partial fence around it, is located along the outbound lanes of the expressway, about a block south of the Olive’s Neighborhood Garden for the Hungry at the southwest corner of Ainslie Street and Laramie.
Volunteers for the garden are working with the nonprofit NeigborSpace on a agreement with the Illinois Department of Transportation for the Gunnison-Laramie lot to become a small, passive park space.
Sixteen years ago NeighborSpace worked out a lease arrangement with the state for the garden, where a home also once stood prior to the expressway’s construction. NeighborSpace is an urban land trust that helps community groups maintain neighborhood green spaces.
“It’s going to take a couple of years to make this nice,” said resident Bill Zelenka, who manages the garden along with fellow volunteer Andy Brecklin, whose son Seth started the garden as an Eagle Scout project. Additional projects from Eagle Scouts have brought improvements to the garden over the years.
Like the garden, the park space will allow residents to come together and get to know each other, Zelenka said. Metra has donated to metal benches for the park, and donated bricks from the former Saint Cornelius parish grounds at 5252 N. Long Ave. will be used to create pathways.
“It’ll be a place to chill and maybe play a game of chess,” Brecklin said of the park space.
At times the garden produces as much as a couple hundred pounds of produce a week, Zelenka said. The food, including green beans, tomatoes, eggplant and several varieties of squash, is donated to food pantries at the Northwest Church of Christ, 4602 N. Kilbourn Ave., and Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity Church, 6020 W. Ardmore Ave.
There also was about 12 pounds of honey harvested this year from the beekeeping section of the garden, Zelenka said.
Over the years the garden, which measures around 4,000 square feet, has been improved with an irrigation system, a greenhouse and solar panels. Zelenka said that one of his favorite pastimes is to repurpose donated items for the garden.
The garden also induces a lending library for residents to take and donate books and a small pantry with items from the garden for residents.
For those interested in volunteering for the garden, visit the group’s Facebook page or send an e-mail message to firstname.lastname@example.org