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Residents Give High Marks to the Lake County Forest Preserves

September 26, 2022 02:20 PM

Lake County's forest preserves are clean, safe and popular places to relax and enjoy nature, as rated by local residents in a countywide attitude and interest survey.

Results are based on a survey of 698 households conducted earlier this summer by aQity Research & Insights. Through the countywide survey, 77% of residents rated the Forest Preserves positively, with 40% holding us in the highest regard. Residents believe our top priorities should be to care for the trails and preserves and to restore and manage natural lands for native plants and wildlife and for the services that nature provides, such as flood mitigation, cleaner air and water and carbon storage.

“We received high trust and confidence ratings,” Executive Director Alex Ty Kovach said of the survey, which he describes as a “score card of consumer sentiment.” The last survey was done in fall 2019, just before COVID-19. Throughout the pandemic, Lake County residents turned to the forest preserves more than ever to cope with physical, mental and emotional challenges and for a safe place to gather. "It’s gratifying to learn that, despite the significant increase in visitation, 89% of users report being somewhat or completely satisfied with their experience," Kovach said.

Forest Preserves President Angelo Kyle points to a variety of accomplishments that he believes are behind the high ratings, especially coming out of the pandemic. “Early on, we saw a 70% increase in visitation, and we are still 30-40% above pre-pandemic levels,” he observed.  Attendance at this summer’s Concerts in the Plaza series at Independence Grove in Libertyville broke records, with more than 20,000 people over the 9-week series. This success was bolstered by the increasing popularity of the new Beer Garden. In our education programs, we’ve continued to offer virtual and hybrid programs – expertise staff gained while managing through the pandemic. More than 37,000 participants have been served by our education programs so far this year.

Other highlights and accomplishments include:  

  • Four net-zero energy Forest Preserve buildings are complete, under construction or in the engineering phase.
  • Nine rusty patched bumble bees were found at six of 13 Lake County forest preserves surveyed this summer. The presence of this federally endangered pollinator species is an indicator success of our restoration and management efforts.
  • Greenbelt Forest Preserve in North Chicago is one of the most recent restoration success stories. Since 2015, more than $800,000 in grant funding and District dollars have been invested to restore a portion of the preserve to high-quality prairie, savanna and wetland. At 598 acres, Greenbelt is the largest public green space by far that serves local residents of North Chicago and Waukegan.
  • Recent investments in GIS technology have greatly accelerated our restoration efforts, allowing staff to efficiently track and analyze a variety of information, from floodplain acreage to wildlife populations, to tree branches that may be hazardous or blocking a trail.
  • Greenbelt Cultural Center in North Chicago is experiencing a tremendous increase in events. Since 2018, bookings and events at Greenbelt increased 185%. This past August, the Center hosted 38 events compared to previous years when there were typically about 10 events during the same month.
  • A recent research study showed excellent results from our controlled burn program. Controlled burns are a natural resource manager’s most cost-effective tool available for managing natural communities. They help control invasive shrubs and trees.
  • Awarded the AAA bond rating by Moody’s Investors Service, one of the top credit agencies in the world. This allowed the Forest Preserves to sell $73.7 million in bonds to refinance $81.7 million of its outstanding bonds. The sales resulted in about $11.7 million in savings in tax levies through 2033. This a direct savings to the tax payers.


  • Our Voice is Black History: Past, Present, Future,” a special exhibition that ran last year virtually and in-person at the Bess Bower Dunn Museum in Libertyville, earned national recognition. The National Association of County Park and Recreation Officials awarded the coveted honor for an exhibition that was a collaboration between the Dunn Museum and the College of Lake County’s Black Student Union.
  • The Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada awarded the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting to the Lake County Forest Preserves for 30 consecutive years. 
  • The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning honored the Lake County Forest Preserve District through its recent Regional Excellence Awards program during its inaugural State of the Region event. The Lake County Forest Preserve District received the Regional Resilience Award for its collaborative work on a $9.7 million project to expand the Buffalo Creek Reservoir and increase the region’s resiliency against flooding.
  • The Lake County Forest Preserves and two of its volunteers earned national awards. Joyce and George Proper were awarded the Outstanding Volunteer award. The Growing Through Change project at Grant Woods Forest Preserve earned the Conservation Award. The award recognizes an exceptional effort to acquire, restore, preserve, operate or develop unique or significant conservation and natural areas or programs.


  • The Forest Preserves and the Chicago Bears formed a partnership to battle common buckthorn, a non-native, invasive tree that harms plants and wildlife. Removing this pesky shrub is a key objective in the Forest Preserves’ 100-year Vision for Lake County.
  • The College of Lake County has partnered with the Forest Preserves on projects including a 20-year agreement allowing the school to use and manage the clubhouse at the Brae Loch Golf Club in Grayslake.
  • Pharmaceutical giant AbbVie and the Lake County Health Department partnered with the Forest Preserves to administer COVID-19 vaccines at the Greenbelt Cultural Center in North Chicago. 
  • We are working to build a world-class public private partnership with the Preservation Foundation, the Forest Preserves charitable partner. Over the past 15 years, the return on investment in the Preservation Foundation is 485%.

"As the second largest forest preserve district in the state, I am so proud of everything we have accomplished, said Finance Committee Chair Julie Simpson. "However, we are not done yet. I expect continued investment in the areas of technology and restoration."