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.




The Fort Sheridan Preserve Hypocrisy

Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve Parking
100 parking spaces and a clubhouse on the bluff were approved for a golf course. But for a natural preserve? No parking or maybe 20 spaces.

Take a step back from the current controversy and observe the hypocrisy of the Forest Board regarding the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve.

The picture at right is the plan originally proposed by the Lake County Forest Preserve for a 100 car parking lot and clubhouse on the bluff. It was ok then. Today, not ok.

No Trees. Approved.

The existing and approved Master Plan for Fort Sheridan calls for a golf course. This golf course would have taken over the entire greater expanse of the area we now call the grassland. It would have also spilled over to the Parade Ground with 4 golf holes surrounded by residences. Planting trees? Not on these fairways. That’s the plan. But wait, there’s more.

Club House on the Bluff. Approved.

This wasn’t going to be just some 3 par golf course to knock the ball around. This was going to be a Championship Golf Course with a Club House – on the Bluff overlooking that Great Lake. This was going to be Big Time with Golf Outings and maybe even Professional Tournaments. And, until golf revenues went south, this was the Plan. It was approved by your Lake County Forest Preserve. They were ALL IN.

100 Car Parking Lot. Approved.

A shot-gun start at a Championship Golf Course would put 18 foursomes on the course. That’s 72 people playing golf. Plus caddys and Club House Staff. And every 15 minutes a new foursome Tees off. Popular every spring, summer and fall weekend, that parking lot adjacent to the Club House on the Bluff of Lake Michigan would have to hold what? 125 cars? 150 cars? Probably. And the County approved this. They were ALL IN.

Street Parking? Approved.

And when the Tournaments were held, in addition to all the celebrities, there would be the spectators. And where would they park? They’d park along Leonard Drive and anywhere else they could squeeze a car. And the residents of the Town of Fort Sheridan subdivision were ALL IN with this plan.

Fast forward to today and what do we have? That same Forest Board that was prepared to surrender the Preserve to a golf course and surrender the Lake Michigan bluff to a club house and build a large parking lot wants to reduce parking to just 20 cars near the bluff. Board president Ann Maine worries that we will suffocate this Preserve with overuse when, in fact, the County was prepared to plow it into sand traps and plant water-demanding turf grass instead of self-sustaining indigenous prairie grasses. Talk about suffocating!

Hypocritical Public Policy

So I just want it to be noted that what was already approved and acceptable is now not acceptable. And the only thing that has changed is that instead of making a lot of money running a golf course, which the Lake County Forest Preserve was perfectly happy to do, they have to provide public access and basic sanitary services. And for that they are balking. Just say no to toilets.

Golf on the “historic” Parade Ground? Approved.

And one more footnote to this rant. I have always been less concerned about the Parade Ground section of the Forest Preserve. I sincerely believe that the residents of the Town of Fort Sheridan subdivision have a strong investment in both the maintenance and appearance of this property that is circumscribed by their homes and their wishes in this area should be respected. But at one point this, too, was going to be part of the golf course.

Today there are modest plans to reduce grass cutting by planting trees and shrubs at the edges of the Parade Ground. When I inquired about why the entire Parade Ground couldn’t be landscaped for more economical maintenance I was told, with a straight face, that the County wants to “respect the historic nature of the Parade Ground.” Really? What about that Championship Golf Course for which they were prepared to completely plow up the Parade Ground? Oh, that.

So when the LCFPD says that the proposed Master Plan is to prevent us from destroying the Fort Sheridan habitat you really have to ask, but isn’t that what THEY were planning to do with their misbegotten golf course? Evidently what was OK then, is not OK now. Hypocrisy.

Fort Sheridan Master Plan Concepts – The Video

One thing I’ve learned about truth is that there are many versions of it. Each person interprets the world through his or her own lens. And that is their truth.

My truth is that our public preserve, Fort Sheridan, is about to be closed to the public and inaccessible to people with mobility problems who seek to visit the main attraction – the bluff and the lakefront. That the accidental prairie that has proved so successful as a habitat for rare grassland birds is about to be diminished and possibly ruined. Our state scientists don’t know what will happen to the bird habitat due to the planting of 50 acres of trees. And our County hasn’t even considered the issue. That’s my view. But don’t believe me.

Here’s a 13 minute video of the presentation of the concepts for the Fort Sheridan Preserve’s Master Plan. I’ve annotated some unclear parts and added some additional text commentary. I also edited out sneezing and coughing and some irrelevant editorial by the presenter expressing his own opinions.

Keep in mind just one more truth. Lake County Forest Preserve District hasn’t lifted a finger to engage the public in any discussion regarding the Fort Sheridan Preserve. No mechanism exists to provide them feedback other than writing the committee members. Only a vigilant public has pulled the covers back on their initiatives and shined the light on their activities. Now they are racing toward a public hearing on the Preserve scheduled for April 8 for 2 hours during a weekday rush hour. This is clearly intended to continue to keep the working public out of the discussion. This is what they have called, “a process that works very well.” I think they should be ashamed of their behavior. That’s my truth. Watch the video and find your own truth:

Fort Sheridan Preserve Master Plan Open House April 8

The Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve Master Plan Open House will be held on Wednesday, April 8, 2015, from 5-7 PM at the Midwest Young Artist Center within the Town of Fort Sheridan Subdivision.

Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve Master Plan Open House
Unstructured Open House like this one held in 2012 permits one on one discussion regarding the Fort Sheridan Master Plan

There is no formal presentation and attendees may arrive anytime within the scheduled Open House hours. The main purpose of the Open House is to gather feedback on the proposals prepared by the Lake County Forest Preserve.

Information on the options and plans will be posted. Forest Preserve staff and commissioners will be present to engage in one on one discussion.

The Open House will be held at the following address:

Midwest Young Artist Center
878 Lyster Road
Highwood (Map)
5 PM to 7 PM
(This is located in the Town of Fort Sheridan subdivision on the west side of the Parade Ground)

If you cannot attend, you can provide your input online here.

County Pushes to Make Fort Sheridan Preserve Inaccessible

Reduced parking, inconvenient public access and a look-the-other-way attitude toward people with mobility problems are the cornerstones of the proposed Fort Sheridan Master Plan being entertained by the Planning and Restoration committee of the Lake County Forest Preserves. The goal of the plan is, quite simply, to keep the public out of the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve.

Keep Out of Fort Sheridan
No Vision. No Input

Drifting along with plan concepts not based on any publicly adopted vision, the County has corralled the Master Plan for Fort Sheridan into two poor options. To arrive at this point the county has eschewed any public input into the plan process. Those who have sought to speak to the plans at committee meetings have been shoehorned into 3 minute speaking slots during a legally mandated public comment period. “We’re sorry; your time is up no matter what you have to contribute.”

It is noteworthy to observe that members of the Planning & Restoration committee, many of whom have never been to the Fort Sheridan Preserve, have unlimited time to weigh in on the best plan for this unseen property. Those who know can’t speak. Those who speak don’t know. It is unseemly. But I digress.


Initially introduced in November 2014 after 2 1/2 years of inactivity, the first Master Plan drafts raised eyebrows due to its cluelessness regarding the emergence of a grassland bird population and a populist-inspired hawk observation program. Instead the county struggled with an isolated 3-year-old random request for a kayak launch (now discarded) and where to pee.

Hidden Agenda

Chronic whining by some Forest Board members that if people actually come to this remarkable property their presence will ruin it cleverly masked the reality that the County has a problem enforcing the no-swimming lake front and the crowds that it can and does draw on a very few days of the year. Public use issues at this Preserve are real but keeping people out is not the solution. They are, of course, wrong.

Reduced Public Access

So what remains in play is the ability of the public to actually visit this public lakefront property. Today there are 100 total parking spaces. Proposed plans reduce this to only 20 spaces near the lake shore. Another option puts a small parking lot over ½ mile from the coveted bluff and lake shore. All intended to send a clear message that the public is not welcome at Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve. This, of course, is wrong.

No Public Input

The County is conducting this Master Plan process without even a Tweet or a Facebook post let alone solicitation of interest on their website or other communications. Nevertheless, due to the sharp eyes of some County agenda-watchers, over 15 people showed up at the inconvenient Monday afternoon sub-committee meeting to express their interest and race through their concerns with a stopwatch monitoring their speaking time. The County considers this public input. This, of course, is also wrong.

Sneaky Urgency

The County, which has taken 3 years to get to this point, seems suddenly intent on resolving this matter before people are aware and spring & summer users of the Preserve can be engaged. Sneaky. And cowardly. And certainly not in the public interest.

Take Action Now

If you care about the outcome of the Fort Sheridan Master Plan, you will want to certainly be at any upcoming public discussion. But you need not wait. You should express your concern to each member of the Planning & Restoration Board. Not a Lake County resident? It doesn’t matter. Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve is a world-class property that transcends political boundaries. What you think matters.

Contact Planning & Restoration Committee Board Members:

Ann Maine, President LCFPD amaine@lakecountyil.gov
Bonnie Thomson Carter, Committee 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 Fort Sheridan Master Plan Disaster

Under the direction of Executive Director Ty Kovach, Lake County Forest Preserve District (LCFPD) staff presented to Forest Board committee members three misguided alternatives for the management of the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve.

LCFPD Master Plan Fort Sheridan ConceptAlthough labeled Concepts A, B & C by the staff, I will call them what they are: Bad, Worse and Worst. As a summary, all of the proposals incorporated the common theme of making the attractive assets of the Preserve inaccessible to the public and destroying the rare grassland habitat.

The most prominent aspect of all the options was the reduction in total parking spaces and moving the remaining parking to remote locations ¾ of a mile from the bluff and the beach. Other lowlights of the plans included:

  • Reduction in the size & configuration of the grassland prairie of sufficient magnitude to destroy its value for nesting grassland birds
  • No provision for the nascent Fort Sheridan Hawkwatch & potential elimination of hawk watch site lines.
  • Closing auto access to the preserve via the existing Gilgare Lane
  • Construction of toilets ¾ of a mile from the bluff and the beach

If You Build It…

Since the opening of the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve it has suffered from a major problem: Success!

The Preserve’s public opening was enhanced when LCFPD created interim trails. The trails brought throngs of hikers, dog walkers, photographers, bird watchers and joggers into the bucolic rye and black-eyed susan grasslands and out to the magnificent bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. The ½ mile of continuous beachfront attracted hundreds of beach goers even though the beach is legally closed to swimming. In response to demand, the LCFPD increased the parking lot from 20 to 40 and then 80 spaces and even added additional parking on the north side by the cemetery with access to the trails.  It was – and is – a smashing success. Apparently too much so.

The Beach Management (a/k/a People Stay Out) Plan

The Fort Sheridan beach has always been a nettlesome issue with the Forest Preserve. According to LCFPD, the cost of remediating the lake for swimming in a location in which ordnance may be in the water is financially untenable. So the most effective option to manage demand is to keep people off the beach.  One can do this by shooing them away or just make it a ¾ mile to one mile walk to and from your car.   And if one wants to use the toilets, plan on a 30 minute round trip. That should keep the riff raff away.

We Hate (or don’t understand) Grasslands

Although there is no approved master plan, the LCFPD has already received a grant to plant 2900 trees in Fort Sheridan and surrounding area. I don’t get it. I like trees. But the Fort Sheridan grasslands, one of two large expanses in the county, has already proved, in its short life, to be a haven for common as well as endangered species of grassland birds. In spite of this achievement, or perhaps entirely ignorant of it, the plan calls for diminishing the grassland to the point of uselessness as a habitat for these birds. Moreover, apparently the Forest Preserve doesn’t even require a plan to proceed with the planting of the trees. It becomes a fait accompli.

Ignorance or Arrogance?

Without doubt the magnetic appeal of the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve is the breathtaking bluff views and Lake Michigan beach access. Certainly having 250 acres of unbroken grassland and forested areas enhances the appeal but the main event is the lake. Fort Sheridan is not property looking for a purpose. It was telling to hear Restoration & Planning Committee Chairperson Bonnie Thompson Carter actually say that “the LCFPD has to determine what kind of uses it wants to drive.” That ship has sailed, Commissioner Carter. The population of Lake County has made it clear about what they like. And they are going to want to park their cars near what they find attractive and use convenient sanitary toilet facilities that don’t take a major effort to use. And the job of our Forest Preserve is to accommodate that interest not thwart it.

What’s Next?

The LCFPD spent two years developing this dumb plan in darkness and secrecy without soliciting any public input. It is unclear how quickly they may move forward with their bad plans. They do not seem to have a good concept of how to gather public input as they are simply presenting limited options rather than collecting input from their constituency. It’s dumb. But it is their way. Therefore you must tell them what you want.

Take Action

Following is a list of the board members of the Planning and Restoration Committee and the LCFPD Executive Director. Send each one an email. Include a copy to your own Lake County Board member.

Tell them you want:

  • Convenient public parking access to the bluff and the lakefront
  • Sanitary toilet facilities within an easy walk
  • Preservation and enhancement of the rare prairie grassland habitat
  • Ongoing input into the planning process – not just a response to their plans

And tell them you want a response. And if you don’t get one, write them again.

Board committee members:

  • Chair, Bonnie Thomson Carter BCarter@lakecountyil.gov
  • Nick Sauer nsauer@lakecountyil.gov
  • Steve Carlson SCarlson@co.lake.il.us
  • Bill Durkin BDurkin@lakecountyil.gov
  • Sandy Hart smhart@lakecountyil.gov
  • Craig Taylor CTaylor@lakecountyil.gov

Ty Kovach akovach@lcfpd.org (Executive Director of LCFPD)

Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve Vision

View of Lake Michigan from Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve BluffI, too, have a dream. However, it’s probably more appropriate to call it a vision of what the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve should become. Having worked together with hundreds of others to reach this point where we might plan for the future of the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve, we have an interest in seeing it developed for the remarkable and unique resource that it is.  Here is a first cut at what that plan might be.

I. Introduction

The Lake County Forest Preserves District is embarking on a plan for improvements and management of the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve. With the cooperation of multiple individuals, we have endeavored to draft a compelling vision for the preserve that optimizes its value to each of its stakeholders including its residential neighbors, nearby communities, adjacent land uses and land owners and all Lake County residents.

This vision incorporates Fort Sheridan’s history and its location on land having rare and unique attributes.

II. Vision

Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve should be managed to:Public Lakefront including Fort Sheridan, Openlands Lakeshore Preserve & McCormick Woods

  • Showcase its unique natural features including
    • Lakefront
    • Lakefront bluff
    • Ravines
    • Prairie grassland and savanna
    • Cultivate a vibrant & protected grassland bird habitat
    • Identify & protect environmentally sensitive areas
    • Manage land subject to ecological criteria
    • Provide an amenity to Lake County and the Town of Fort Sheridan
    • Respect and relate to its adjacent land uses
    • Contribute to the well-being of Lake Michigan

III. Criteria, Constraints & Opportunities

Decisions about Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve should be based on the following criteria, constraints and opportunities including:

  • Geography – physical features and relationship to land use at its boundariesPublic Lakefront
  • Flora & Fauna – existing and desired
  • Public Use – permitted, facilitated and excluded
  • Facilities

III. a. Geography

The Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve is part of a network of publicly accessible land. It must be managed consistent with the overall land use and environmental well-being of the entire area, not merely the land owned by the Forest Preserve. This requires communication and coordination with other entities.

Proximate land in conservation includes the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve on the south and Lake Forest’s McCormick Woods on the north. Together this public land makes up hundreds of acres of forest, savannah, prairie grassland and over 2 miles of Lake Michigan lakefront and bluff.

  • Prairie grassland, Oak Savannah, Ravines
  • Prime nesting for grassland birds
  • Non-motorized user access
  • Restoration to pre-settlement condition – probably Oak/Hickory Savanna
  • Ecologically correct biodiversity
  • Identification and protection of ecologically sensitive areas

III. a. 1. Lakefront

  • Manage lakefront access
  • Passive use – dog walking, hiking, sun bathing
  • Stormwater effluent/water quality management
  • Bluff preservation, erosion management and restoration

III. a. 2. Cemetery

  • Adjacent land use consistent with the dignity and quiet of the cemetery
  • Connection of cemetery (open gate) to adjacent forest preserve perhaps with trails and areas for repose

III. a. 3. Openlands/McCormick Woods/Town of Fort Sheridan

  • Consistent and seamless integration with adjacent land use and land development
  • Remove barbed wire fence on north side of Ft. Sheridan
  • Coordination with Lake Forest on trails and paths between Fort Sheridan and McCormick Woods
  • Parking & traffic management

III. a. 4. Historic Ft. Sheridan residential/Parade Grounds

  • Surrounded by residences of the historic Town of Fort Sheridan, the Parade Ground should be managed to complement the residential neighborhood.
  • Passive use
  • Planting to minimize lawn cutting/maintenance requirements
  • Water retention/stormwater managementGrassland birds and birds of the Oak savanna in Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve

IV. Flora & Fauna

  • Audit environmentally important areas (nesting areas, Red-headed woodpecker habitat, etc.)
  • Management to insure sustainability of important areas
  • Planting to encourage likely/desired animal species habitation

V. Public Use

  • Passive Recreation
  • Walking, dog walking, running, biking (dedicated areas only)
  • Designated picnic areas (near each parking lot)

VI. Facilities

  • Restrooms – off existing parking lots
  • Parking
    • Improve existing parking and optimize
    • Create second parking lot off Sheridan Road
    • Picnic Shelter(s)Photographer at Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve

VII. Implementation

  • Transparent planning and implementation process and calendar
  • Creation of Citizen Advisory Committee (Friends of Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve)
  • Ongoing management plan
  • Allocation of budget

This vision is not affiliated with or endorsed by the Lake County Forest Preserve District. It is for discussion only.

Comments are encouraged.