Updated: August 4, 2013 6:27AM
The Cook County Forest Preserve District appears ready to shake off its sleepy image and grab the attention of county residents and visitors. Its woods, trails, waterways and recreational areas are there, waiting to be used, but not enough people use them.
The district has suffered from a lack of a dynamic mission, especially when it comes to restoring what once was its prime function — giving urban dwellers a close and convenient way to enjoy camping and escape the pressures of city life.
So we’re glad to see that district officials have launched an overdue program to expand and improve many of the campsites within the roughly 68,000 acres of preserves, with the goal of encouraging camping, especially by first-timers.
Regrettably, the forest preserve system has been an underappreciated jewel for much of the past century — mostly because district leaders viewed it as haven for political patronage rather than as a marvelous resource snuggled against urban life. Historically, they have not done a good job of promoting its amenities.
But the reform movement within Cook County government extends to the forest preserve district, where Supt. Arnold Randall wants to again open up pockets of the county’s “green necklace” for campers to commune with nature. By the end of this year, the district’s $25 million camping master plan should be ready for implementing.
Among the sites to be enlarged and improved is Camp Sullivan near Tinley Park, where the district will renovate three bunkhouses, construct 12 tent cabins and 40 tent sites, renovate an historic barn and add toilets and showers.
The campground will connect to existing trails and provide more opportunities to use the barn and a new entry farther north on Oak Park Avenue will help the camp feel more secluded. The adjacent Camp Falcon will merge with Camp Sullivan. Also, a new campground will be added at Shabbona Woods near South Holland.
The campsite program is part of the forest preserve district’s ambitious, $110 million capital spending plan that will raise its profile and aims to welcome in more guests. We say it’s about time.