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Forest Preserves of Cook County begins long-term venture to beautify, improve vast woodland

Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Pioneer Press
by Todd Shields

Cook County Board commissioners accepted a plan today to improve public lands of the Forest Preserves of Cook County over the next 25 years.

A commission of local leaders appointed by Board President Toni Preckwinkle created the “Next Century Conservation Plan” as part of the Forest Preserves’ centennial anniversary celebration.

“The Forest Preserves are one of the most important assets of Cook County and ensuring that they thrive as a source of beauty, inspiration, economic vitality and health is critical to the success of our region,” Preckwinkle said.

A county release stated 3,000 of the 69,000 acres of forestland were in “good ecological health,” meaning they had a good mix of native plants and soil conditions for native species habitat.

The Next Century Plan called on the Forest Preserves to commit to restoring 30,000 acres over the next 10 years.

The preserves’ acres that spread across Cook County feature ponds and lakes, camping areas, horse trails, nature centers, prairies, boat launches and wild life.

Cook County Commissioner Gregg Goslin, R-14th, said while the plan has a stated purpose for the next 25 years, its vision will impact the forest environment for the upcoming 100 years.

He also said the majority of forest lands were not in ecological trouble, but some acres needed help.

“Even areas around Glenview have degraded. County forest preserves have always been treated as an aside, such as in restoration efforts,” he said.

“But this new plan has an independent, empowered group that is a recognized arm in conservation.”

Goslin said no new taxes would immediately be considered to implement the conservation plan.

His 16th District covers Glenview, Barrington, Inverness, Palatine, Rolling Meadows, Arlington Heights, Prospect Heights, Wheeling, Northbrook and Northfield.

Some members of the Next Century Conservation Plan Commission are John McCarter, Chicago Field Museum and Wendy Paulson, Openlands — Conserving Nature for Life.

The plan also called for “expanding the economic benefits of the preserves,” which Goslin said could include renting field houses for weddings or corporate events.

The plan’s other priorities were restoring native landscapes, making the preserves more inviting and accessible, demonstrating the economic benefits of the preserves and ensuring future leaders focus on conservation and accountability.

Preckwinkle also announced programs for immediate implementation:

The Forest Preserves of Cook County, Friends of the Forest Preserves, Audubon Chicago Region and Friends of the Chicago River will create a network of 6,000 volunteers for restoring habitat in the Chicago and Calumet rivers.

By reducing invasive vegetation, increasing native plant cover, and improving stream bank stability, this work will reduce erosion, and improve habitat and water quality along the Chicago and Calumet rivers.

The plan recommends building a conservation corps to provide workforce training to youth and unemployed individuals throughout the county while expanding the preserves capacity for ecological restoration.

The Preserves will work over the next 25 years to protect up to 21,000 acres of additional open space identified by Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and Chicago Wilderness that is unprotected and to provide critical habitat, buffers or connections for trails.

Preckwinkle has asked the Cook County Department of Transportation and Highways to look at access to the preserves with more public transportation, biking and walking.

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