History of Parks and Recreation

Jesse Fell donated 2 acres of land for public use in the late 1880’s. It is believed the land was used for selling hay and functioned as a farmer’s market. This tract of land later became Normal’s first park and is known as Fell Park. Parks built in Normal were school playgrounds of Unit 5 schools.

The recreation movement started in the Town of Normal on May 18, 1955. A citizen’s group requested that $1,000 be made available for recreation uses by the Town and a 3-member committee was appointed to work with the Council. In 1956 a citizen’s organization represented by Eugene Hill presented survey results showing the desires of the citizens for the development of recreational programs, with the top priority being the construction of a swimming pool.

In May 1957, the Town hired its first Recreation Director, George A. Sperry. Mr. Sperry formed a 3-person committee with the Town Council to form the “recreation department”. The Council agreed to purchase 20 acres of land to be developed as a park site, later known as Fairview Park. Later that year, a new citizen’s group consisting of 17 people known as the Normal Recreation Advisory Council formed and worked closely with the department. An ordinance was passed for the issuance of a swimming pool revenue bond in the amount of $110,000. In May 1958, Fairview Pool was opened and the Department hired its second employee, Robert Thayer, to manage the pool.

In March of 1962, 10 ½ acres were purchased near Chiddix Jr. High School, which eventually became Ash Park. The National Recreation Association was hired to develop a master park plan that would apply to Ash Park. In 1963, the plan was accepted and a cooperative project with Unit 5 School District was set. In August of 1963, two tracts of land were purchased. One tract was used to fulfill the plans for Ash Park and the other tract became Maplewood Park. David Anderson became Director in 1965. Maplewood Park was renamed Underwood Park in 1982 and in 1998 Ash Park was renamed David S. Anderson Park after the former Parks and Recreation Director and Town Manager. 

In 1967, a survey showed the need for a second swimming pool and a bond was issued. Plans were made with Unit 5 for the construction of a swimming pool and plans for the acquisition of Maxwell Park were developed. 120 acres on the Town’s west side was purchased in 1969 for Maxwell Park, with 50 acres sold to Unit 5 for a junior high and elementary school site. Ronald Blemler, the Town's longest-serving Parks and Recreation Director, was hired in 1970. Ground was broke for Ash Park Pool in June 1973 and it opened on August 21, 1974. Indoor winter operations inside the bubble took place starting November 1, 1974 but ceased in April of 1981 due to the operational cost of the facility. In 1975, land was purchased and developed into Bicentennial Park and was later renamed Martin Luther King, Jr. Park. Also in 1975, the department became financed through the General Fund and the department received its funding on the same basis as the other departments operating from the general fund.

In February 1982, the Town entered into a contractual agreement with Rainbow Bend Waterslide Group of Peoria, IL on the construction and operation of a two-flume waterslide adjacent to Fairview Park Pool. The slide opened in summer 1982 and in May 1985 the Town purchased the slide from Rainbow Bend. In 1985, the department began to investigate the possibility of an off-road trail. On March 27, 1987, Normal and Bloomington agreed to jointly develop a linear park, the Constitution Trail. The trail opened May of 1989 and currently has 50+ miles throughout McLean County. The department broke ground in March of 1988 for an 18-hole facility in northeast Normal. On May 24, 1990 the Ironwood Golf Course was opened to the public.

The Town purchased the Normal Theater in downtown Normal from GKC Theater Inc. in November 1991. The Theater, which originally opened in November of 1936, is now part of the Cultural Arts Department. The theater’s marquee was relighted in August 1993.

Parks and Recreation Directors Years of Service
George A. Sperry 1957-1960
Jerry McDonald 1960-1962
Gordon Jaeger 1962-1963
David Anderson 1965-1970
Ronald Blemler 1970-2002
Garry Little 2002-2015
Christopher Cotten 2015-2016
Doug Damery 2016-Present