Tag Archives: forest preserve

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?


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


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.



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.

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.

Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve Public Planning Open House

A public Planning Open House on Tuesday evening, June 12, will be held at the Midwest Young Artists Center, 878 Lyster Rd., Highwood, in the historic Fort Sheridan property.

In March, after years of analyzing declines in demand for golf and financial feasibility concerns, the Lake County Forest Preserve District Board of Commissioners voted 21-1 not to pursue construction of a golf course at the site. Instead, Forest Preserve Commissioners wanted to concentrate on completing additional trails and other more typical Forest Preserve outdoor recreation and habitat restoration improvements for the general public to use and enjoy at Fort Sheridan.

Staff and commissioners are soliciting your ideas for potential future improvements to this preserve.  What amenities will enhance this environmental gem, ensure that it is an asset for the neighbors and a treasure for Lake County residents?  Your input regarding future trails and other potential outdoor recreation and open space improvements is critical.

At the Planning Open House, the public is invited to drop in anytime between 4 and 8 p.m., to review maps and other information about the natural resources and existing public trails and facilities at Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve, and to provide input regarding options for additional future outdoor recreation and habitat restoration improvements. In an informal setting, Forest Preserve staff members will be available to answer questions. Weather permitting, Forest Preserve historians and naturalists will conduct optional tours of the historic sites and natural areas within the preserve.

Since obtaining the northern 250 acres of the former military base, the Forest Preserve District has restored the wooded ravines and bluffs along the Lake Michigan shoreline, constructed a paved bike and hike trail, installed educational outdoor exhibits, and completed military base cemetery improvements.

Comments from the open house will be reviewed by the Forest Preserve Board of Commissioners and taken into consideration for the site’s future planning.

Directions to the event:

Enter the Fort Sheridan gates on the east side of Sheridan Road At its intersection with Old Elm Road. Follow Simonds Way east to Leonard Wood, and turn right. Follow the road to the right as it becomes Lyster Road. The Midwest Young Artists Center is the seventh yellow brick building on the right. There is parking and a back entrance covered with a burgundy awning.

Those unable to attend the Open House may submit ideas via email at FORT@LCFPD.org.