When Steve Ames took the Skokie Park District’s landscape supervisor job in 1990, the parks were underdeveloped, many of the district’s current facilities had not been built, the landscaping throughout Skokie’s 42 parks was spare, and the landscaping crew was understaffed.
Now, more than three decades later, under his guidance, the Skokie Park District is renowned throughout Chicagoland for its stunning flowers and tremendous diversity of trees and plant life.
At 30, Ames came from the City of Evanston Parks as its acting assistant superintendent. What he walked into was a park district that was about to be transformed into a national gold medal winner seven years later.
“I came to this job at a time when the district had begun to spend its money to upgrade its parks and to add modern recreational facilities for the residents of Skokie,” said Ames. “There also was a landscaping revolution happening in local public parks nationally. It was the perfect time to make changes and add new life and color to our green space.”
With the district investing in new playground designs and modern buildings, Ames brought landscape architecture and plant specialization to those settings. He began adding bulbs, tropical plants, perennials and annuals, and a lot more color to beds throughout the district. Flowers beds were added to each park’s entry signage, with Steve’s crew swapping out the plantings seasonally. Ornate borders also were placed around the beds.
As beautiful as the plantings have been now for 32 years, Ames’ greatest legacy is probably tree diversity. His widening of the tree gene pool over the last three decades, not only has made for more beautiful parks, but also makes for a healthier ecosystem. The tree program he pioneered will be enjoyed by Skokie residents for many years to come.
“One of my favorite places in the district is Weissburg Park,” said Ames. “In the early ‘90s there was a movement internally to add amenities like tennis courts and a playground to the park. When the neighbors indicated that they were against that, my staff and I, over many years, looked for many unusual plants to add to the park, “ he said. “Now it is a beautiful passive park with a walking path and benches, with staff now in the process of trying to get the park arboretum status.”
And Ames is effusive about his current, talented young crew. From native plantings and habitat development, (many in and around park water retention basins), to modern turf management and irrigation for sports fields, to the reduction of pesticides, to the effective use of information technology and a more concerted effort to manage the tree population, Ames’ staff is not only creative, but self-sufficient.
“The landscape of the Skokie Park District will be in excellent hands going forward,” he said.
Steve Ames will not be forgotten. Just visit any park or district facility in Skokie to see his life’s work continue to grow and thrive for decades to come.