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Cook County Forest Preserve District turns 100

Bullfrog Lake.  |  Susan DeMar Lafferty~Sun-Times Media

Bullfrog Lake. | Susan DeMar Lafferty~Sun-Times Media

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History of the Cook County Forest Preserve District

The district’s 100th anniversary will be celebrated over the next three years to recognize some key dates.

In 1913, the state passed the Forest Preserve District Act, allowing the creation of forest preserves.

In 1914, Cook County residents voted to create a forest preserve district.

In 1915, the first meeting of the district board of commissioners was held.

Other key facts about its history include:

June 25, 1916 the first lands were obtained – a 500-acre parcel of what is now known as Deer Grove.

By 1922, its land holdings had grown to 21,516 acres.

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Updated: July 13, 2013 6:15AM



During the past 100 years, large swaths of land from Barrington Hills to Sauk Village have been acquired by the Cook County Forest Preserve District — about 69,000 acres in all.

The district this week launches a three-year centennial campaign to celebrate with old and new friends and draw new visitors to experience nature within the oldest and largest forest preserve system in the nation, district Supt. Arnold Randall said.

“We are trying to raise our profile. When people think about Chicago, they think about the lakefront and museums. We want them to think about the forest preserves,” Randall said.

While the district has not wavered from its core mission to protect and preserve land, “how we do that in 2013 is very different than it was in 1913,” he said. “Nature is meant to be an escape. Our job is to get more generations here, get them to appreciate the value of nature.

“We know kids are into video games and sports. We are competing with all of that. But we know that once we get them out here, they will love it,” Randall said.

The forest preserve district is undertaking several initiatives to buy more land, add facilities and upgrade existing ones as it implements many recommendations in its new master plan, which outlines its vision for the next 100 years.

Randall was recently at Bullfrog Lake near Willow Springs to discuss plans to build a primitive campground at the southwest corner of the lake — with tent pads, restrooms and showers. It is one of six new or renovated camping sites that should be completed by the spring of 2015.

“Camping is a way to introduce people into nature,” he said, adding that by providing tents, the district wants to encourage first-time campers.

Bullfrog Lake is a popular spot for fishing, mountain biking and hiking, and at adjacent Maple Lake, the forest preserve district plans to upgrade the boathouse and add a concession area, according to Randall. He also wants to create a new trail linking this area to the Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center.

The Palos/Willow Springs area is the largest in the district, accounting for about 25,000 acres, or 11 percent of the total land in Cook County, district spokeswoman Karen Vaughan said.

Randall said the district’s goal is to reach 75,000 acres.

“There are no more areas like this, (Palos-Willow Springs) but there is land adjacent to our land and other open space that connects to our land,” he said. “The more urban the area, the more important it is to protect the land.”

Land acquisition will account for about 25 percent of the $110 million the forest preserve district plans to spend on the capital campaign for its centennial. Another 20 percent will be used for new or renovated campgrounds. Another portion will go for deferred maintenance projects.

A new campground will be added at Shabbona Woods near the Sand Ridge Nature Center near South Holland, and facilities at Camp Sullivan near Tinley Park will be upgraded. A new campground also will be built at Camp Pine Woods near Northbrook and Camp Reinberg near Palatine will be renovated.

Other initiatives of the centennial campaign include:

Redesigning entrances to the different woods, including improved signage and additional visitor information.

Creating interpretive centers, including one at Tinley Creek Woods, at 135th Street and Harlem Avenue, to help visitors understand what they see.

Introducing technology via QR codes and podcasts to provide more information.

Updating trail maps and integrating new technology that will show the district’s 330 miles of trails and their connections.

Expanding programs aimed at creating the next generation of conservationists.

“We need to modernize and engage new generations. We have to be more outside looking,” Randall said. “We have to lead the charge about being out in nature.”



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