Updated: September 25, 2012 10:52AM
Cook County doesn’t have the best public image, largely because of its control by Chicago politicians and a history of political corruption, but there’s a jewel that many of us take for granted — the roughly 68,000 acres of forest, prairies and wetlands of the
nation’s largest forest preserve district.
Promoted by visionary leaders and conservationists, the district was created in 1914 via referendum and began acquiring land two years later, quickly reaching 21,500 acres by 1922. That means most county residents have known the vast expanse of preserves for their entire life.
And we in the Southland, who enjoy many of these natural areas nearby, now will have a new one — the Oak Forest Heritage Preserve, planned for 176 acres around the former Oak Forest Hospital property along 159th Street.
Forest preserve district officials outlined their plan for the land recently, and we’re impressed with its scope and emphasis on complementing two historic areas there, a Native American archaeological site and a cemetery where the county’s poor were buried from 1911 to 1971.
The plan calls for recreational trails — used for walking, jogging and bicycling — to be installed over several years and that will connect to two nearby forest preserves, a public park and wider sidewalks along Cicero Avenue. There also will be educational components, including renovating an existing building into a visitors center/museum and creating interpretive areas for the historic cemetery and 17th century Native American village.
Also planned are re-establishing native plants and grasses, restoring the shoreline of a small lake and installing a pedestrian crossing over 159th Street. District officials said the initial phase of the project should cost about $3.2 million and will come from existing funds.
The county board, which also oversees the forest preserve district, could’ve sold the land to private developers but decided to keep it as open space. Those civic leaders from a century ago would be proud.