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Will County Forest Preserve District marks decade of expansion

People head out bowhile Rock Run Rookery Preserve Wednesday Sept. 19 2012 Joliet. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media

People head out on a boat while at Rock Run Rookery Preserve Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012, in Joliet. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media

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Highlights

This has been a busy summer of openings and reopenings for the Will County Forest Preserve District. Here are the latest updates and their price tags:

Lake Chaminwood Preserve: Opens at 6 a.m. Friday. Located off Shepley Road west of the Interstate 55 frontage road in Troy Township. The new two-lake, 120-acre preserve, named for the nearby towns of Channahon, Minooka and Shorewood, features a .69-mile loop trail, shoreline fishing and boating for canoes and kayaks. Small boats with electric trolling motors are allowed if they are brought in by truck. No trailer parking is available. Cost: $497,000.

Goodenow Grove: Reopened Sept. 15. Located on Dutton Road, north of Goodenow Road in Crete. The 891-acre preserve now has renovated parking and camping areas, a three-mile crushed limestone Plum Creek Greenway Trail and a new natural playscape. Cost: $2.15 million.

Prairie Bluff Preserve: Grand opening Aug. 11. Located on Renwick Road, approximately .75-mile east of Weber Road, in Lockport. Includes a picnic area and three-mile loop asphalt trail, which connects to the Arbor Glen and the Fields of Longmeadow subdivisions. Cost: $1,320,000.

Teale Woods: Grand opening July 14. Located at the corner of Theodore and Center streets in Joliet. New 13.8-acre preserve with a .3-mile asphalt trail. Cost: $108,800.

For more information on all of the preserves, visit www.reconnectwithnature.org or call (815) 727-8700.

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Updated: October 22, 2012 6:29AM



When the Will County Forest Preserve District opens its fifth fishing lake at 6 a.m. Friday in Troy Township, the action will cap a flurry of summer openings and reopenings.

It also signals the beginning of the end of a multiyear, multimillion-dollar acquisition and improvement program approved by voters who were hungry for recreational opportunities and open space close to home.

Friday’s debut of Lake Chaminwood off Shelpley Road comes a week after the district saw about 7,000 people flock to the grand reopening of the Goodenow Grove/Plum Creek Nature Center in Crete.

“It was just unbelievable, people just kept coming and coming,” district spokesman Bruce Hodgdon said. “We never experienced anything like this.”

In July crowds of forest fans also inundated Teale Woods in Joliet during that preserve’s grand opening.

A grand opening will be held at Lake Chaminwood next year after the recently planted vegetation has had time to mature, Hodgdon said. Until then, preserve patrons are welcome to fish and hike and enjoy the latest preserve addition.

Referendum proceeds

The district’s busy summer caps off more than a decade of acquisitions and improvements that were funded by initiatives approved by voters in 1999 and 2005. Subsequent bond sales supplied the district with $165 million: $132 million for land preservation and $33 million for site improvements. About $13.5 million is left.

Some of the money will be used to pay final bills on the recently opened or reopened preserves. About $6.9 million will be used for future land acquisition and another $5.4 million will be used for preserve improvements, said Andrew Hawkins, the district’s superintendent of planning and development.

The district added 8,600 acres during the past decade to bring its leased, managed and owned land to a grand total of some 21,475 acres.

Forest preserve board President Cory Singer said the district’s mission was simple: “To buy land that’s pretty and make sure people can use it.”

Singer, who will no longer be board president after the Nov. 6 election because he’s running for county executive, said it’s been a wonderful experience watching the district expand and hit a new high of 1 million visitors last year.

“Drive around the county now and just about wherever you live, you’re close to a pretty forest preserve,” he said. “That’s what we’re supposed to do.”

Amazing journey

Forest preserve Executive Director Marcy DeMauro, who has worked for the district for almost 27 years, said it has been an amazing journey watching the district expand into every corner of the county. The preserves are free to visit and they came just at a time when because of the economy, more people were looking for recreational opportunities closer to home, she said.

“They can bring their families and were making peoples’ lives better.”

The pace of projects will begin to slow as the last dollars are spent in the next two years.

“We’re winding down and we’re acquiring our last few parcels of land,” DeMauro said.

Some of the final projects planned for the next two years include extending the DuPage River Trail north in Naperville and south from Shorewood to Channahon.

“We’re trying to close the gaps in that system,” DeMauro said.

Habitat restoration will take place at Hickory Creek Barrens in New Lenox. The district’s fourth dog park will open no later than spring of 2013 in Custer Park at the Wauponsee Glacial Trail’s Southern Access off Ballou Road. And a fifth dog park will open in 2014 off McClintock Road north of Rock Run Rookery Preserve in Joliet.

The Kankakee Sands Preserve in Braidwood will be improved as farmland is converted into prairie and savanna.

There are no plans now for another referendum or acquisition program.

“Right now, everyone needs to take a step back and catch their breath,” she said.



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