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.
Although 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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
- Steve Carlson SCarlson@co.lake.il.us
- Bill Durkin BDurkin@lakecountyil.gov
- Sandy Hart email@example.com
- Craig Taylor CTaylor@lakecountyil.gov
Ty Kovach firstname.lastname@example.org (Executive Director of LCFPD)