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Officials Concerned About Forest Preserve Party Plan

Thursday, December 18, 2003
Pioneer Press

A plan by the Cook County Forest Preserve District to use only certain sites for large picnics and other gatherings has village officials and local Forest Preserve proponents concerned about what impact that may have in Morton Grove.

One of the five sites designated by the district is St. Paul Woods in Morton Grove. Local officials say that could mean problems with traffic, noise, parking and trash.

"We do have some concerns," said Ralph Czerwinski, village administrator. "It's really a problem."

Under the new plan, effective Jan. 2, permits for the two largest types of gatherings will only be granted in the five sites designated as "Large Event/Festival" areas. The permits include one for gatherings of between 500 and 999 people and one for groups of 1,000 and more.

The sites, in addition to St. Paul Woods, include Busse Woods South, Miller Meadow, Swallow Cliff Woods and Green Lake Woods.

In past years, Czerwinski said, there have been usually two of the large gatherings per year in Morton Grove. But with 50 to 60 a year total and only five sites "the math is simple. Two were a burden. This will really be a major burden on the community."

Morton Grove Trustee Jim Karp, also a member of Friends of the Morton Grove Forest Preserves, said the Forest Preserve District at least should have met with local officials, who he said, were not even notified about the new plan.

"You would think at least they would have a meeting," he added. "We've got to have a plan."

"We would have appreciated that," Czerwinski said. He said Monday that he had a conference call set this week with Steven Bylina, general superintendent of the Forest Preserve and Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin to try and resolve the issue.

Karp said that large gatherings in the preserve in the past have meant increased ambulance and police calls for the village as well as more traffic and noise. He noted that St. Paul Woods has a residential area next to it, which will make those problems worse.

"I think it would be mayhem. It's going to be a nightmare," Karp said.

Steve Mayberry, a spokesman for the Forest Preserve District, said the new plan was put into place without contacting local officials because it had to be passed in time for the new permit season, which begins Jan. 2. However, he said, Forest Preserve officials still plan to contact the affected communities in the coming weeks to discuss implementation of the plan.

In reality, he said, the new system will benefit local communities who will know what to expect and will not be caught off guard by a large group gathering. Also, he said, organizers of large events can be required to assist with things such as traffic control.

"We can let folks (applicants) know, you're going to have to help us here. You're going to have to help with security," Mayberry said.

In addition, he said, by limiting the large groups to five areas the Forest Preserve District will better be able to concentrate its police and maintenance crews where they are needed.

"We can know where our police have to be. We can do what we have to do. It's really a win-win situation," Mayberry said.

John Thill, a member of Friends of the Morton Grove Forest Preserves, said one of his concerns is parking.

The Forest Preserve District chose the site in part because it is near the Metra commuter parking areas along Lehigh Avenue. However, in the past, Thill said, when large groups used the preserve cars ended up parked on the grass inside the preserve.

Also, he said, it will be difficult for the village to enforce parking regulations, such as paying for spaces in the commuter lot, when most people attending an event come from outside of the village.

"I have a feeling it's a done deal," Thill said. "I think it's devastating to the village."

But Mayberry said the plan actually will allow the Forest Preserve District to better allocate its resources and take the burden off of local towns.

"This allows us to be more responsible to them and more responsible to taxpayers," Mayberry said.

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