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Our View: Grassland to spread its beauty

Updated: November 17, 2012 6:18AM



The Cook County Forest Preserve District announced last week that it will expand the Orland Grassland, the large nature preserve in southwest Orland Township that’s an oasis amid the suburban sprawl.

We welcome the news because the 161 acres of farmland south of 179th Street are a sensible fit with the existing 960-acre preserve that extends north to 167th Street between LaGrange Road and 104th Avenue.

We continue to support the district adding to its impressive land holdings (now about 68,000 acres) which provide natural recreation areas and buffers and have served to greatly deter overdevelopment in the county.

For years, homebuilders were interested in the Orland Township site but the family that owned it wasn’t willing to sell. The housing market’s collapse stalled residential development there, and the forest preserve district acquired it for $8 million from a family trust.

A major restoration project by the district and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is under way to return the Orland Grassland to its origins — getting rid of trees and non-native vegetation to enable prairie, wetlands and oak woods to flourish and attract grassland birds. A recreational trail will be installed later along the property’s perimeter.

Once the invasive flora is gone, native wildflowers and grasses will be planted, district officials said, and the newly acquired site will continue to be farmed until the district is ready to transform it similarly.

The restoration project has stirred controversy because of the many trees removed and the district at first burning some, which led to complaints from nearby homeowners about the heavy smoke that was produced. The district switched to putting the trees through chippers and hauling away the huge wood-chip piles.

The dramatic change in the Orland Grassland, while stark for now, is needed to achieve the historic prairie and savanna that naturalists say will be even more attractive and now will cover a larger area.



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