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  Circa 1958 referendum campaign brochure.



As principal guardian of Lake County’s open space and natural areas since 1958, we set the standard in nature and historic preservation, and in outdoor recreation and education. The guiding elements of our mission remain focused on preservation, restoration, education and recreation. Acknowledged as a regional and national leader, we protect nearly 31,000 acres of natural land and are the second largest Forest Preserve District in Illinois.

Read our Mission Statement

100-Year Vision and Strategic Plan

We envision that 100 years from now Lake County will be a healthy and resilient landscape with restored and preserved natural lands, waters and cultural assets. Residents will take great pride in how their forest preserves make their communities more livable and the local economy more dynamic. Our vibrant communities will thrive, and future generations will protect and cherish these remarkable resources and the highly desirable quality of life that they provide.

Learn more about our Vision and Strategic Plan


Ethel and Frank Untermyer, 1958.

Our story begins in 1957, with Ethel Untermyer and her 3-year-old son Frank who wanted to go exploring in the woods.

New to Lake County, Ethel and her young family had just moved from nearby Chicago and she was unfamiliar with the area. When Ethel asked a friend where the nearest forest preserve was, she was stunned to hear that Lake County had none. After all, Cook County already had 47,000 acres protected.

So the next day, she organized a countywide referendum to create the Lake County Forest Preserve District. It wasn’t an easy undertaking, but like any person who makes a difference, Ethel didn’t let early disappointments defeat her.

Just four people came to Ethel's first meeting. But she wasn’t deterred. She started driving her Studebaker throughout the county, frequently on dirt roads. She spoke with groups and garnered support. She sought out local leaders and got a quick education in politics. Spurred to action by this inspired 33-year-old homemaker, other concerned citizens rose to the challenge and joined in the effort.

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 and the fast pace of development. The first organization to endorse the referendum was the Lake County Farm Bureau. 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.

By election day in November 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. An advisory committee of citizens was formed, with Ethel as its chair.


Ethel Untermyer, 1925–2009.

And in 1961, four years after her son Frank asked for a place to explore, the first preserve in Lake County was created: Van Patten Woods in Wadsworth.

Ethel’s Legacy

Ethel’s Woods Forest Preserve, a high-quality natural area in Antioch, is named in honor of her efforts to initiate the founding of the Lake County Forest Preserves. Ethel’s Woods is a lasting symbol of the difference one person can make for the benefit of many.

Ethel Untermyer passed away in September 2009.

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