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Forest district plans for Southland: New looks, new ways to play

Cook County Forest Preserve's Tinley Creek Bike Path along 159th Street near George Dunne National Golf Course Oak Forest Illinois

Cook County Forest Preserve's Tinley Creek Bike Path along 159th Street near George Dunne National Golf Course in Oak Forest, Illinois, Thursday, February 9, 2012. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media

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See the plan

To view the forest district’s capital improvement plan, visit http://www.fpdcc.com/downloads/FinalCIP1-10-2012.pdf

Online gallery

For more photos pertaining to the forest preserve district’s plans for the
Southland, visit southtownstar.com.

Upcoming

Over the next five years, the plan shows:

$47.6 million for new and upgraded buildings,
recreational facilities,
restrooms and pavilions.

$33.8 million for new and rebuilt trails (of which
$7.4 million is expected
from grants).

$29.3 million for
landscape and habitat
restoration.

$11.8 million for parking lot improvements.

$5.3 million for consulting services, new plans.

$4.3 million for walks, shelters and ramps.

$3.6 million for fencing.

2012 projects

Southland projects to get under way this year:

Parking lot improvements at Thorn Creek, Tinley Creek, Yankee Woods, Bachelors Grove.

Upgrading the pavilion at Dan Ryan Woods.

Consulting services for the Oak Forest Master Plan, camp improvements, Calumet-Sag Bike Trail, new concession stand at Swallow Cliff, a boardwalk at Sand Ridge Nature Center and the Recreation Master Plan.

A new south suburban rowing facility, to be
developed over next three years.

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Updated: April 19, 2012 8:01AM



Where toboggans once ruled at Swallow Cliff Forest Preserve in Palos Township, some folks would like to see zip lines.

A new dog park, more trails and better campgrounds also were on the wish lists of Southlanders when the Cook County Forest Preserve District sought input to create a new five-year, $142 million capital improvement plan.

It’s more comprehensive than previous plans, with a focus on restoring facilities and offering more recreational opportunities, as people suggested.

District officials said they made a more concerted effort to obtain public input, sending staff members out into communities and using their website.

“We looked at every aspect of the district,” said Arnold Randall, general superintendent for the district.

The capital plan contains a lot of new ideas, along with more recreational opportunities, infrastructure improvements and deferred maintenance projects, he said. Randall emphasized that the capital improvement plan is “fluid,” subject to available funds and additional studies.

For starters ...

Money will be spent this year to create a Recreation Master Plan, to explore new suggestions such as a zip line at Swallow Cliff, a dog park in the south suburbs and possibly a banquet facility at George W. Dunne National Golf Course.

The forest district also wants to develop a master plan to use 175 acres of open space it now owns at the former Oak Forest Hospital site, 159th Street and Cicero Avenue.

“There’s a lot of history there. It has some challenges, but it’s a beautiful site,” Randall said.

Public feedback also will be needed on these plans, said Chris Slattery, director of planning and development.

The budget for 2012 includes $42 million for projects. Bike and equestrian trails top the list, at nearly $9 million. Combining that with previously budgeted funds and grants, the district has nearly
$11 million available for trail construction and repairs this year.

The 2012 projects include engineering of the Calumet-Sag Trail — a 32-mile bike path that will connect Lemont to Burnham — and the extension of Thorn Creek Trail from Lansing to Sauk Village.

Construction on those and a new four-mile trail around the Orland Grassland in Orland Township is slated to begin in 2013.

The Palos, Tinley Creek and Thorn Creek trails will be realigned and resurfaced this year, according to the plan.

In 2015, the district plans to construct the Burnham Greenway trail extension to the Sand Ridge Nature Center near South Holland, complete the Centennial Trail and connect the Tinley Creek Trail. The latter two are subject to grant funding.

The next biggest chunk of money to be spent in 2012 — $5.7 million — is earmarked for habitat restoration throughout the district.

Looking ahead ...

As he looks out over the next five years, Randall said he is most excited about expanding and upgrading campground facilities because it “creates opportunities for people all around the region” and is
a “great way to introduce people to nature.”

On the list for campground improvements are Camp Sullivan at 147th Street and Oak Park Avenue; and Camp Falcon, near 143rd Street and Harlem Avenue, which has been closed since last year.

There is not enough money to fund everything the district would like to do. Randall said the plan is to refinance existing bonds and issue new ones where appropriate. There will not be a tax increase, he said.

The district hopes to partner with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on several projects.

“Our core mission is to acquire land and maintain it,” Randall said.

Some potential projects are somewhat new for the district, such as dog parks and zip-line facilities.

“We had quite a few calls for a dog park, which is not surprising. It’s a trend,” he said.

The district operates only one now, along the Tri-State Tollway near Des Plaines. Dogs there are required to be leashed.

There’s a lot of interest in dog parks in the Southland, he said, “but we need to find areas where we would not damage the landscape.”

One new dog park has been budgeted for 2012.

“In the spirit of fairness, we should put one south,” Slattery said.



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