Cantigny launches $25 million 'Project New Leaf'

Cantigny Park will launch a five-year, $25 million project to create new gardens and renovate museums on the grounds of the Wheaton oasis, officials announced Thursday.The first phase of the plan, titled "Project New Leaf," calls for planting roughly 700...

Cantigny launches $25 million 'Project New Leaf'

Cantigny Park will launch a five-year, $25 million project to create new gardens and renovate museums on the grounds of the Wheaton oasis, officials announced Thursday.

The first phase of the plan, titled "Project New Leaf," calls for planting roughly 700 trees, replacing paths with an eye toward accessibility, adding outdoor lighting to allow the park to host evening events, and building about 300 parking spaces.

The privately funded project marks the "largest comprehensive update" to the gardens and grounds since the park opened in July 1958, Executive Director Matt LaFond said.

Reconfiguring existing gardens will open up views throughout the park. Hundreds of new native, wetland plants will be placed around a scenic pond, where a boardwalk will draw visitors closer to the shores.

A walkway bordered by native perennials will run from the Visitor Center to the former mansion of Col. Robert McCormick, the famed Chicago Tribune publisher who fought in the Battle of Cantigny during World War I, returned home and renamed his estate after the French village.

The First Division Museum began a $7 million makeover last spring. Closed since Veterans Day, the museum and its new exhibits will reopen in late summer.

"We're often told here at Cantigny that a lot of times when they come, our guests have no idea how much there is to enjoy here," said Joy Kaminsky, the horticulture director. "So in the way that we're designing the pathways and our current infrastructure, we hope it will be more intuitive to our guests that there's a lot to enjoy as they stroll through the gardens and visit the museums."

Sasaki Associates, a firm operated out of Boston and Shanghai, is leading the design of Project New Leaf. The park will break ground on the project in April and remain open during construction, with temporary closures of some areas.

Roughly 367,000 people visited Cantigny last year.

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