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Family donates 100 acres to forest preserve district

Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Southtown Star

By Steve Metsch, Staff Writer

Glancing at a sign bearing his father's name, Bill O'Malley considered what Michael J. O'Malley's reaction would have been to Tuesday's ceremony.

"He's the type of guy who wouldn't ask for something like this, but if he was here, he'd be proud to see it," Bill O'Malley said.

The sign welcoming visitors to "Michael J. O'Malley Preserve" stands at the corner of Sauk Trail and Burnham Avenue, one of those rare undeveloped pieces of Cook County.

The sign is on the eastern edge of 100 acres of pristine property donated by the family to the Cook County Forest Preserve District.

"How can one put a worth on that? It's priceless," said Steven Bylina Jr., general superintendent of the forest preserve district.

Michael O'Malley's widow, Eileen, of Lemont, decided to donate the land in 2004. The naming ceremony was not a prerequisite.

"Very good," she said of the sign. "I think he'd be happy."

Her husband died in 2000.

The donation is the largest to the forest preserve district in at least 20 years, county spokesman Steve Mayberry said.

"It's so hard to get any acreage these days that is vast, abutting an existing forest preserve and, frankly, worthwhile," Mayberry said.

Companies often contact the district about donating land, but sites tend to be "environmentally hazardous and not near any other forest preserve," Mayberry said.

This site, split by Sauk Trail and west of Burnham Avenue, is beside the Plum Creek Forest Preserve.

"With development going on all over, it's hard to acquire land when everyone thinks the greatest use is another house," Cook County Board President Todd Stroger said.

The forest preserve district now has 68,000 acres of land and hopes to one day have 75,000, Stroger said.

He soon may be visiting with fishing pole in hand.

Five small lakes dot the property and are rich with bluegill and bass, O'Malley said.

"My son (Hans) has been all over me about going fishing," Stroger said. "But I need somebody to put the worm on the hook. I'll be full of holes and the worms would be lying all over the place."

Tom O'Malley fondly recalled visits with his father to forest preserves.

"We grew up using the forest preserves from sledding at Dan Ryan Woods to hiking. My dad was an amateur arborist who'd take us for walks in the forest preserve. I could name all these trees. It was very kind of my mother to come up with this concept of donating the land," Tom O'Malley said.

Stroger is grateful.

"Not many of us would actually donate 100 acres of land to a government agency of any sort. Fewer still would actually approach the agency with the idea," Stroger said.

County Commissioner Joan Murphy (6th) noted her own unique connection to the site: Her father's name also was Michael O'Malley.

"I'll be delighted in future days, when my relatives from the East Coast come to visit, to take them to their very own forest preserve and tell them this is dedicated to all the O'Malleys," Murphy said.

Steve Metsch can be contacted at smetsch@southtownstar.com or (708) 633-5996.



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