Category Archives: lake county

Open Letter to Lake County Forest Preserve Planning Committee

Following is  a letter I sent to each member of the Lake County Forest Preserve District (LCFPD) Planning and Restoration Committee. I strongly encourage you to express your concerns as well. I have provided contact information at the end of this letter.

Dear <Planning & Restoration Committee Board Member>,

On Monday, 8/31 your Planning & Restoration Committee agenda item 8.2 is “Recommend

approval of Revised Concept Plan for Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve, and permission to proceed with preparation of Final Master Plan.”

On behalf of the hundreds of people who have voiced their comments on the outcome of this matter, I am requesting that no vote is taken on this item at this meeting on Monday.

My understanding is that you have not seen the Revised Concept Plan. Requests to see this Revised Concept Plan by Lake County residents as well as by the media have been denied.

The LCFPD has gone to great lengths to study the usage of the Fort Sheridan Preserve and

Over 500 people expressed their views on the Fort Sheridan Master Plan Concept Plans
Over 500 people expressed their views on the Fort Sheridan Master Plan Concept Plans

obtain public sentiment. Certainly you should receive a briefing on the findings of the usage studies as well as an understanding of what has been revised in the Revised Concept Plan.  However, moving forward with a vote without due deliberation, thoughtfulness and respect for your invested constituency is not the best practice of a representative government.

As you well know from the over 500 comments compiled by LCFPD from open houses, email, letters, and Idea Exchange public sentiment ran over 2:1 against either Concept Plan A or Concept Plan B. Even taking Plans A & B together, public sentiment ran 3:2 against these options versus the citizen-authored Plan C.

It is a tribute to the value your constituents place on their Forest Preserves and Fort Sheridan in particular to have such a high level of public engagement.  We are your donors, beach cleaners, volunteers, nature field trip leaders and, of course, taxpayers. All we ask is that your deliberations are thoughtful, unhurried and representative of your public.

The irony is that this property, carrying the historic title of “Fort,” has been a battleground of sorts for such a long time. We ask that you be the statesman and be responsive and inclusive in recommending a plan for the future of Fort Sheridan Preserve.

This letter was sent, individually to the following committee members. I encourage you to do the same BEFORE 8/31. Thank you.

Board members of the Lake County Forest Preserve District Planning & Restoration Committee

Bonnie Thompson Carter – Chair    BCarter@lakecountyil.gov
Nick Sauer – Vice Chair                   NSauer@lakecountyil.gov
Carol Calabresa                              CCalabresa@lakecountyil.gov
Bill Durkin                                        BDurkin@lakecountyil.gov
Sandra Hart                                     smhart@lakecountyil.gov
Diane Hewitt                                    DHewitt@lakecountyil.gov
Sid Mathias                                      smathias@lakecountyil.gov
Craig Taylor                                      CTaylor@lakecountyil.gov
Tom Weber                                       TWeber@lakecountyil.gov

The “Mysterious” Revised Concept Plan for Fort Sheridan

Active older adultsOn Monday, August 31 the Lake County Forest Board planning committee will be asked to approve a Revised Concept Plan for Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve. The agenda item reads:

“Recommend approval of Revised Concept Plan for Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve, and permission to proceed with preparation of Final Master Plan”

There’s only one problem. What is the Revised Concept Plan?

  • Has anyone seen it?
  • Will the committee receive both a presentation AND be asked to vote on the same day?
  • In spite of the hot contention of this issue, is the public completely shut out from either viewing or commenting on this plan BEFORE it is voted on?
  • Is this really the way we want our government to function?

It is both unfortunate and sad when our government plays a cat and mouse game on issues of concern and interest to the public. This has been the history of the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve Master Plan process:

  • Failure to engage the public prior to purchasing 2900 trees.
  • Failure to have an approved plan in place prior to purchasing trees or engaging a contractor to plant the trees.
  • Failure to engage the public prior to developing  two unpopular plan options
  • Aggressively discouraging public presentation of an alternative plan
  • Failure to distribute the Revised Concept Plan before a vote on it

Whew. I guess we get the government we deserve. If this is ok with you, that is. It is not ok with me.

The Revised Concept Plan will be considered at the meeting of the Planning & Restoration Committee on Monday 8/31 at 1:30. The committee meets at Lake County Forest Preserve HQ at 1899 W. Winchester Road in Libertyville.

You can see the  Agenda – Planning and Restoration Committee here (click to download).

And you can see the proposed recommended committee action & background study they conducted over the summer here (click to download).

But you cannot see the Revised Concept Plan. It is a Mystery.

How the Lake County Forest Preserve Does Things

On Monday, June 1, 2015 the Planning Committee of the Lake County Forest Preserves District (#LCFPD) voted to spend $100,000+ to plant 2600 native trees and shrubs in Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve. A deeply contentious issue, the vote sets in motion a set of actions that will eventually extinguish 52 acres of successful and unique grassland prairie and the wildlife it supports on the Lake Michigan shore. It is one small backward step for man and one small backward step for mankind.

No Plan. No Support.

The action was taken in the absence of an adopted Master Plan for Fort Sheridan. It was also approved in the face of widespread and vocal opposition. Dissent the District has attempted to stifle at its origin and not share with the board members when successfully expressed in public comment.

Coin of the Realm: Bullying

Although no blood was spilled, the bruises were evident as Board President Ann Maine and her staff spun a tale made of whole cloth, bullied and intimidated other board members who did not share her worldview.

Cart Before the Horse?

The public comment  and committee member questions focused on the one procedural issue:

How could the county move forward toward a contract to plant trees on the grassland before there was an approved Master Plan supporting that land management?

There was an audible sucking in of air in astonishment as President Maine exclaimed, with complete disdain for the democratic process, “If we waited for plans, we’d never get anything done.” This disregard for due process was echoed by the District’s Director of Natural Resources Jim Anderson who commented, “This is how we do it.” Meaning, of course, without the approval of the county commissioners or the support of its constituent public.

Shh! Nobody Likes Your Plan.

So besides overrunning the political process, President Maine and staff are withholding till September the outcome of public comment held through a structured online comment forum together with comments written at a well-attended open house.  And there’s a reason why.

What President Maine doesn’t want to share is the overwhelming rejection of either of their Concept plans A or B in favor of options that very much resemble exactly what Fort Sheridan Preserve provides today, a fine grassland habitat.

Is Ignorance Bliss?

With their vote today it would appear that the Planning Committee of the Lake County Forest Preserve District is comfortable ignoring its constituents and making insufficiently informed decisions. Thank you Commissioners Hart & Mathias for your rejection of this proposal. We regret your being intimidated for being “freshmen” commissioners. You demonstrated great insight & savvy not shared by your colleagues.

The matter goes before the Finance Committee on Thursday, June 4 and, if approved, to the full LCFPD Board of Commissioners on Tuesday June 9.

The Case for Plan C at the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve

Plan C is a citizen-based initiative to provide an alternative to the ill-conceived Concept Plans A & B being advanced by the Lake County Forest Preserve District.

What is exceptionally appealing about Plan C is that it is the only option that has a proven track record of success. Plan C is close to the status quo of what the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve is today and has been for the last 3 years. And this has proven to be a very popular and huge success. Plan C builds on that success. It needs your support.

Plan C Supports Public Access & Grassland Habitat

Plan C Map of Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve
Plan C retains the 80 car parking lot and the successful grassland habitat. Click to download & view the larger PDF image.

Principal tenets of Plan C

  • Retain the existing 80 car parking lot.

The existing hard-pack 80 car parking lot enables centralized walking access for the elderly, handicap and families with young children to the lake, southern ravines as well as the grassland trails. Citizen-collected data indicates that an 80-car parking lot meets the parking needs of the Preserve more than 90% of the time. LCFPD has no data on parking requirements. Their plans are based on guesses and political objectives.

  • Maintain the grasslands.

The successful grasslands are home to nesting grassland birds, species whose numbers have diminished largely due to loss of habitat. Plan C also supports additional study prior to any consequential negative impact. Additionally the open space panoramic prairie view is one of the favorite features of the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve with visitors. All LCFPD data has been provided by citizen scientists. They have no data of their own on the success of this grassland.

  • Plant trees along the western end of Fort Sheridan.

This will help deaden the traffic noise from Sheridan Road and block the visual sightline of buildings and traffic for those in the Preserve thereby improving the natural environment experience.

  • Plant new trees in existing stands where trees are in decline.

Rejuvenate existing wooded areas that have been diminished through natural events and the absence of proactive management.

  • Proceed with proposed Parade Ground enhancements.

Plan C supports both Concept A & B proposals to naturalize the perimeter of the historic Parade Grounds as well as to complete the walking trail loop

  • Improve picnic area in the existing main parking lot.

Provide picnic areas near the parking and restroom facilities.

  • Upgrade toilets in the existing main parking lot.

Replace existing portable toilets with evaporator type toilets and locate near existing main parking lot and near Cemetery parking lot.

  • Add platform for Natural Viewing Area & Hawk Watch.

Build a permanent platform near the existing main parking lot in cooperation with the nascent Hawk Watch station.

  • Add two additional litter stations for dogs.

Enhance dog management by adding on-leash signage and dog waste stations near the main parking lot and the Cemetery parking lot.

Plan C Addresses Management Issues

Plan C is also the only option that explicitly recognizes the problems that have emerged at the Preserve and need to be addressed. These include:

  • Unauthorized entry to Lake Michigan along the non-swimming lakeshore
  • Degradation of the bluff due to off-trail foot traffic
  • Identification and preservation of plants of concern
Identification and Protection of Plants of Concern

The Preserve is fortunate to be host to several plants of concern. These plants and their habitats will be identified, cordoned off, labeled. Educational programming is proposed to draw attention to these plants and encourage their preservation and continued development consistent with the LCFPD 100-year Vision to restore the area to ecological health.

Bluff Protection

There are multiple bluff protection strategies that can be deployed individually or in combination. These include:

  • Nature-scaping the bluff with shrubs that deter foot traffic,
  • Signage at the bottom & top of the bluff  identifying the threat to the bluff
  • Physical restraints such as roping the area
Lakeshore Management

Lakeshore management is a seasonal enforcement matter. Prominent signage, assessment of fines and periodic enforcement sweeps along the lakeshore at strategic times will send the message that this shoreline is not for public swimming.

Plan C Needs Your Active Support

Tell the Lake County Forest Preserve that your support Plan C by going to their website and submitting your comments on their form. It does NOT matter if you are a Lake County resident or not. Please share your opinion.

Tell them you support:

1. Retaining pubic access and the existing 80 car parking

2. Retaining the successful and popular grassland habitat

Video: Forest Preserve Intimidates, Threatens Arrest at Open House

Our group attended the LCFPD Fort Sheridan Open House at which we were physically blocked from entering the Open House, harassed &  intimidated and threatened with arrest and removal. We just wanted to provide the input they solicited. Watch the video of the entire episode.

These Are the Plan Options. These are the Only Plan Options.

It would appear that the Lake County Forest Preserve District under the direction of President Ann Maine has plans for the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve. And it doesn’t matter a damn what anybody thinks. Don’t kid yourself. They are absolutely committed to forcing their poorly conceived plans, called Concept A and Concept B on the public regardless of public sentiment. And the only public sentiment they want to hear is that which is legally required and nothing more.

We Really Don’t Want Your Stinkin Feedback

The Forest Preserve held a public open house on April 8. My invitation from Executive Director Ty Kovach told me that I was “invited to an Open House to learn about improvement plans for the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve and to provide feedback regarding the plans.” With the intent of providing constructive and effective feedback, our group thoughtfully prepared a comprehensive set of alternative options highlighting what we felt the County-sponsored plans were lacking. We spent hours talking to environmental experts. We talked to people who visited the Preserve. We assembled maps, a fact sheet and other documents to make our case and to share with others at this open house. And then we showed up at the Open House to share what we had learned.

“No Other Plans Allowed”

When we arrived with our material, we were all but tackled at the door by LCFPD staff. Our path was blocked. Our map was grabbed. We were told that “no other concept plans were allowed in the building.”  We pushed through this nonsense. Immediately the LCFPD Chief of Police was on us telling us to take our material out of the Open House.  I asked the Chief, “I cannot present my plans? And the Chief responded “You cannot.” In the course of further discussion the Chief threatened to call the Highwood police and have me removed from the Open House. Some Open House.

Stay Out of Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve

Incongruous as it seems, LCFPD does not want people to come to the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve. They don’t want people to walk along the magnificent bluff. They don’t want people on the Lakeshore. In a direct quote from a top staffer, “Go to Illinois State Beach if you want to see Lake Michigan.” Really?

Just Say No to the Forest Preserve

Reject the LCFPD thoughtless Concept Plans. Reject their “not welcome here” attitude. We have a better idea. We call it Plan C. As soon as we recover from the trauma of the Open House we’ll share it with you.

Voice Your Opinion

Please tell the Forest Preserve that you want public access at Fort Sheridan. Tell them that you want to preserve the successful grassland prairie. Do it now and do it here.

Why Public Access at Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve is Important

The most significant aspect of the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve Concept Plans being advanced by the Lake County Forest Preserve District (LCFPD) is the provision for parking.

Just a Public Works Project?

To the casual public, the location of the parking lots and the number of parking spaces may look like an innocuous public works project. But in fact it encapsulates some fundamental public policy issues. Permit me to connect the dots.

walker with caneReducing the number of parking spaces and moving parking further from the bluff and the lakeshore achieves two things:
1) It puts a physical limit on the number of people who can be in the Preserve.
2) It makes it inconvenient for people to visit the very assets of the preserve (bluff and lakeshore) that they find appealing.

Such an incredulous outcome begs the question:

Why would the Forest Preserve want to limit visits and make it inconvenient?

Overuse:

One answer has been given overtly by LCFPD President Ann Maine who has said “We can love our parks to death.”

Enforcement:

The second answer has to be inferred because LCFPD hasn’t addressed it directly. That answer is that LCFPD has an enforcement problem. The lake shore is a non-swimming beach. So one way to keep swimmers off the beach is to make it very difficult to get to the beach in the first place.

Let’s explore this and understand why this thinking is wrong minded and not in the public interest.

In opposition to the LCFPD 100-year Vision

The “100-year Vision for Lake County” was recently adopted by the LCFPDwalker with cane as one its three pillars for the next 100 years (Leadership, Conservation, People) – Under the “People” section they state:

“The Forest Preserve District and partners will promote an active, healthy lifestyle by providing convenient access  for people to enjoy outdoor recreation and explore nature in clean and safe preserves and on an accessible regional network of land and water trails…..”

Certainly the proposed plan is in direct opposition to this stated objective.

We don’t protect what we don’t experience

last-child-cover-lrgConservation organizations and the think tanks that support them have recognized that people won’t be motivated to allocate resources to protect our environment if they don’t experience the environment. This may seem obvious, but there is a lot of work done and data to support this thinking.

Richard Louv’s seminal book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder created an increased interest in children’s environmental awareness. In sum, we are raising generations of people who do not experience and do not have convenient access to nature.

Can we really love Fort Sheridan to death?

No. Not with proper management. I have personally driven around Lake Michigan and witnessed many forms of lake shore management where endangered plants are growing and where endangered birds (e.g. Piping Plover) nest. You need only drive to Montrose Bird Sanctuary (Magic Hedge) that is frequented by far more people in less space than Fort Sheridan. Aggressive dog management, ropes cordoning off important plant areas are all in place to prevent us from “loving our parks to death.” Ann Maine is wrong. Only by mis-managing Ft. Sheridan can we injure it.

But this management takes some thoughtfulness, ongoing maintenance and money. And, in the end, this is about LCFPD not wanting to spend the money at this Preserve.

Missed education opportunity

If LCFPD believes we have important assets that should be protected, rather than make this Preserve difficult to access, make an effort to identify and protect these assets. Put up signage explaining their value. Create programs around these assets and help people understand the important & endangered species right under their feet (literally). Don’t hide these resources where nobody can see them or know anything about them. Education is a key mission of LCFPD. Why would LCFPD shirk from this responsibility? This is an opportunity that should not be missed!

Again, from the 100 Year Vision:

“The District will engage its diverse population through creative education and outreach programs to ensure that future generations are inspired to treasure and support Lake County’s unique natural, historical and cultural resources.”

Oh yeah? Well, not with the proposed Concept Plans. In fact, the proposed plans are directly in opposition to these adopted policies.

The wrong people are affected

Commissioner Sandra Hart said it best in her recent email about the proposed plans. She wrote,

“I believe that these Concept Plans will significantly impact the number of veterans, elderly, disabled, and families who can visit Fort Sheridan to view Lake Michigan from the bluff or the shoreline. By decreasing or eliminating parking from the existing area, it will be very difficult for less mobile people to enjoy this spectacular vista.”

In a nutshell, the healthy & mobile will not be deterred. Teens and healthy young people without children will still flock to this lakefront because the mile walk from wherever they can find a place doesn’t bother them. And they’ll pee in the woods. And swim in the lake. But families with kids and the mobility challenged will be excluded.

This is embarrassing and damning public policy and we cannot let it prevail. We must separate the access issue from the enforcement solutions. Public access and the parking required should be provided. Let’s focus on enforcement as a separate issue.

Public comment on the proposed plans is welcome through April 30 by going to this website. Make your opinion known.

Highland Park / Highwood Favor Existing Public Access – County Conceals Opposition

“Upon review, both Highland Park and Highwood are strongly opposed to having access and parking closed and/or significantly restricted.”

Highland Park & Highwood letter opposing limiting access to Fort SheridanAs a result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request made to the Lake County Forest Preserve, we have secured a letter jointly signed by the mayors of Highland Park and Highwood. In no uncertain terms, the mayors have appealed to LCFPD to maintain the “popular parking” that now exists. Saying that the plans “would make lakefront access significantly challenging, contravening the goals of providing enhanced access in the first place.

As citizens we are so fortunate to have tools, like the FOIA, that permit us to shine a light on that which public officials may choose to keep hidden. As the LCFPD presented a second unpopular draft of its Master Plan in March, they claimed to have sought counsel with unspecified others to develop their plans. But, in fact, what the LCFPD heard was outright opposition. Regarding this opposition, the county said nothing and in doing so they misled us.

We appreciate the validation provided by Highland Park and Highwood of our desire to maintain public access and keep our public forest preserve conveniently accessible. By concealing opposition LCFPD has egg on its face. In the end there is no support for the Master Plan concepts advanced by the LCFPD.

Unfortunately, there are some in the LCFPD who seem intent to limit access to Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve and its magnificent bluff vistas and shoreline in spite of what the public desires for their public land. There is an open house on April 8 for you to tell the LCFPD that you want this access. Additionally, LCFPD will accept online comments from April 1 – April 29 at www.ideaexchangelcfpd.org.

Here is the letter sent by Highland Park and Highwood that LCFPD chose not to share with us.