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Forest Preserve History

Mission

To preserve a dynamic and unique system of natural and cultural resources and to develop innovative education, recreation and cultural opportunities of regional value, while exercising environmental and fiscal responsibility.

Ethel Ethel Untermyer, 1958

Frank Frank Untermyer, 1958

History

Our roots reach back to 1957 and a three-year-old boy who wanted to go exploring in the woods. When Ethel Untermyer's son, Frank, made his request, she asked a friend where the nearest forest preserve was. Like many families, the Untermyers had just moved to Lake County from nearby Chicago and were unfamiliar with the area.

She was stunned to hear Lake County had no forest preserves. So the next day, she did what few other 33-year-old homemakers would do: she organized a countywide referendum to create the Lake County Forest Preserve District.

In those days, Lake County's population hadn't even reached 300,000. But people were already shaking their heads about the loss of open space. Unique to Illinois, forest preserve districts were designed to protect large natural areas. Education and recreation would be important offerings, but primarily within that natural context.

Just four people came to Ethel's first meeting. She started driving her Studebaker throughout the county, frequently on dirt roads. She spoke with groups, sought out local leaders and got a quick education in politics. By election day in fall 1958, a groundswell of public support had emerged. The referendum passed with an overwhelming 60 percent of votes. Twenty days later, the Lake County Forest Preserve District was legally established in circuit court. A citizens' advisory committee was created, and Ethel Untermyer was named its chair.

And in 1961, four years after Frank Untermyer asked for a place to explore, the first Lake County Forest Preserve was created: Van Patten Woods near Wadsworth. On that day, Ethel reflected on her efforts and said, "This is the secret, the magic everyone is looking for when they crave preservation of open areas: every solitary soul able to look beyond the end of his nose is the vital spark to achieving a Forest Preserve District. There is no apathy among the people."

A 485-acre preserve has been named "Ethel's Woods" in honor of her efforts to initiate the founding of the Lake County Forest Preserves. Ethel's Woods is located between Route 45 and Crawford Road, south of Route 173 near Old Mill Creek.