A hidden county gem: The Lake Forest Recreation Center

By Gregory Harutunian For Chronicle Media

The Lake Forest Recreation Center is located at 400 Hastings Road in Lake Forest. (Photo by Gregory Harutunian/for Chronicle Media)

The city of Lake Forest is known for its many attributes involving historic architecture or natural beauty that simply need to be sought out and discovered for enjoyment. Another type of gem is rapidly becoming known as a community resource and completely hidden from view, by the Deer Path Middle School. The semicircle drive behind the school leads to 400 Hastings Road, and the Lake Forest Recreation Center.

“We’re a community within a community,” said Danielle Knighton, the group exercise coordinator. “I’ve been here nearly four years, and I do take it all to heart. The range of programs, I’m scrambling to cover them, and that’s a good thing. A membership at the fitness center lets you take the fitness classes, and we always try to change the classes up a bit, just to keep things interesting.”

“We have a lot of pre-K programs, for kids 2-5 years old, and a lot of them are going into the dance academy,” she said. “Moms are spreading the word … they can go work out at the same time as the class … it’s like one-stop shopping.”

The vast amount of programs extends to seventh-grade and high school students with activities as diverse as sailing camps and gymnastics, and personal training for adults. Partnering with other organizations widens the net, and even brings special services for young adults to “talk things out.”

“We’re a municipal department, not a separate district,” said Jason Busdeker, the facility manager. “The advantage is that it gives us the resources available within the city’s holdings. Our fitness center is very good, and with almost 20 other fitness centers in the area, we are in direct competition. The benefit is that our programs are across the board, and everyone becomes tight-knit in a positive environment.”

“We also like to get comments on getting better. We want residents to try us out first, mainly because we are invested in the community,” he said. “We’re very convenient to the downtown, transportation, and other amenities.”

The rec center had its origins in the late 1970s with an administration area and gymnasium. By 1998, however, the site had expanded with a dining area, classrooms, and an open-lighting fitness area with an array of resistance machines, cardio apparatuses with treadmills, cross-fitness steppers, and recumbent bikes, and a free-weight workout section. Members follow their own pace on the equipment, or opt to get personal training from qualified instructors, to help attain their individual goals.

Facility manager Jason Busdeker, Group Exercise Coordinator Danielle Knighton, and Marketing Specialist Kristin Elliott maintain the activities at the rec center. (Photo by Gregory Harutunian/for Chronicle Media)

“Our programs here have something for everyone, from birth to seniors,” said the rec center’s Marketing Specialist, Kristin Elliot. “For example, the sailing classes even teach the skill to kids 5-6 years old in the ‘Little Luffers,’ and they really excel in learning how to do it. Classes are on the Lake Forest beachfront for 7-8 weeks.

“Our high schoolers that learn from the classes, they’ve gone forward to compete all over the world … Italy, Miami and Tampa in Florida, and they do this all year round.”

An important outreach for young adults is served through CROYA, an acronym for “Committee Representing Our Young Adults.” According to the Lake Forest website, “Since 1980, CROYA has been charged with attending to the social and psychological needs of the young adults of Lake Forest and Lake Bluff. It provides a supportive atmosphere where students can identify their needs and … create structured programs that are positive and rewarding.”

Busdeker notes that the program is housed in the rec center, but a separate entity from the parks and recreation department.

“Young adults, from seventh grade through high school are very important. Just having a place where they can drop in, where it’s safe, they can hang out means a lot. If they’re having issues at home, or at school, they can come here and talk it out, where someone will listen. These are positive steps.”

The fitness center has an array of equipment in an open-lighting environment. (Photo by Gregory Harutunian/for Chronicle Media)

Besides golf instruction at the Deerpath Golf course, wildlife-nature explorations, dance, day camps, early childhood development, the opportunities afforded through the Lake Forest Rec Center make it one of best kept open secrets in the area.

“We even had Bobby Douglas, from the Chicago Bears, run a football camp … Bill Wennington, of the Chicago Bulls, run a basketball camp, there’s so much here,” said Elliott. “We’re using social media to make our presence known, but mostly it’s through word of mouth. People know each other here, it’s safe, and it’s a comfortable place.”

Knighton added, “Between the parents, the grandparents, members, and staff … it’s a real community, a community within a community of the Lake Forest-Lake Bluff area, and the county.”

For more information on programs and enrollment, go to the website, www.LFParksandRec.com.