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  The Cook County Forest Preserve District maintains over 70 miles of bicycle trails.

Neglected Forest Preserves Would Get $100 Million Face-Lift

Monday, July 07, 2003
Special to

Cook County's dilapidated and trash-strewn forest preserves would receive a $100 million face-lift, without a tax increase, under a proposal unveiled Monday by four Cook County Commissioners.

Forrest Claypool (D-Chicago), Michael Quigley (D-Chicago), Anthony Peraica (R-Riverside) and Larry Suffredin (D-Evanston) released a detailed reorganization plan that slashes the forest preserve's huge administrative bureaucracy and shifts nearly $12 million in annual savings for use in cleaning up picnic groves and toilets, repairing buildings and trails, and acquiring and maintaining natural areas in the 68,000 acre system.

Although it would require gubernatorial approval of Senate Bill 83, which partially lifts forest preserve debt restrictions, the plan would pay for a $100 million bond issue without raising taxes.

The bond issue would fund new land acquisition in fast-developing areas, make building repairs and improvements, and replace dilapidated toilets, trails and water fountains. It would also fund the hiring of hundreds of peak-season maintenance workers to tackle the widespread and chronic problems of litter, graffiti, and filthy restrooms.

Similar repairs and improvements would be undertaken at Brookfield Zoo and the Chicago Botanical Gardens.

The repairs and improvements would be funded with deep cuts in the district's bureaucracy, transferring duplicative administrative functions to the agency's sister government, Cook County.

The reorganization plan, which will be introduced during the upcoming Cook County budget process, comes on the heels of Sunday's Chicago Sun-Times investigative report, which chronicled the system-wide carnage of broken or closed toilets, vandalized picnic shelters, inoperable water fountains, graffiti and trash.

The Sun-Times report mirrored a study last year by Friends of the Forest Preserves, which found that two-thirds of district holdings were in poor condition and "getting worse."

In recent years, the Cook County Forest Preserve District has been beset by financial scandals. Forest preserve bureaucrats ran up $20 million in deficits and hid them by raiding funds set aside for land acquisition, construction and development.

To address the financial shortfalls stemming from the scandals and mismanagement, the Cook County Board of Commissioners last year laid off hundreds of low-paid workers who clean and maintain the forest preserves. Management was spared entirely.

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