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Openlands and Lake County Forest Preserves Partner in Land Transfer

June 5, 2023 01:20 PM
© Openlands

The Planning Committee of the Lake County Forest Preserves approved a resolution recommending the acceptance of the 71.55–acre Openlands Lakeshore Preserve during a June 5 joint meeting of its operations, planning and finance committees. 

Openlands and the Forest Preserves have been in conversation about the potential transfer of the acreage and 1 mile of Lake Michigan shoreline, which would be an addition to Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve in Lake Forest. The board of commissioners is expected to approve the final agreement at its June 14 meeting. 

Founded in 1963, Openlands is a nonprofit conservation organization and land trust. It protects natural and open spaces of northeastern Illinois and the surrounding region to ensure cleaner air and water, protection of natural habitats and wildlife and helps balance and enrich lives.

“Openlands has a long, successful track record of acquiring critical parcels and transferring them at the appropriate time to qualified landowners,” said Jerry Adelmann, Openlands president and CEO. “We focus on establishing trusted relationships within communities, protecting vital ecosystems and creating access to nature for all.” 

One of the few publicly accessible ravines and blufftop ecosystems in the area, Openlands assumed ownership of the site, part of the former Fort Sheridan Army Base, in phases in 2007 and 2010. The area is of statewide ecological significance and home to at least six threatened and endangered plant species. Thousands of migrating birds rest and refuel at the preserve each year. 

“We are thrilled to add this additional parcel, which will result in nearly 2 miles of contiguous, publicly-accessible shoreline at Fort Sheridan,” said Alex Ty Kovach, executive director of the Lake County Forest Preserves. “A scenic destination, this stately preserve offers a variety of opportunities to recreate in nature.”

Openlands closed the preserve in 2021 due to safety concerns over remnant military items, which are in the process of being addressed. The Forest Preserves plans to conduct its own safety analysis and hopes to open the 71.55-acre parcel later this summer. Within the next few years, the Forest Preserves expects to complete a master plan of the new acreage while considering the existing holdings to ensure a seamless visitor experience. 

“Openlands did an excellent job creating accessible trails through the sensitive ravine and blufftop habitats, installing bridges and staircases and did exceptional restoration work,” Kovach said. “We look forward to building on their investments in the site to incorporate the new acreage into the Fort Sheridan experience.”  

As part of the deal, Openlands will also transfer about $1.29 million for conservation and habitat restoration on the property. The Preservation Foundation, the charitable partner of the Forest Preserves, will receive the funding and establish a long-term endowment, which will support ongoing ecological management of the 71.55 acres. "The endowment will provide a permanent source of support to care for the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve at Fort Sheridan today and forever," Kovach said.

“This is a perfect example of how the Forest Preserves and the Preservation Foundation collaborate with partners like Openlands to maintain biodiversity and ensure that no further species are lost in Lake County,” said Angelo Kyle, president of the Lake County Forest Preserves. “Our shared commitment to protect and restore open space brings us together in this critical mission.”