Tag Archives: lcfpd

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.

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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.

 

 

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:

Lake County Forest Board Confronts Fort Sheridan Land Dispute

Lake County Forest Preserve Board to consider Fort Sheridan land use dispute May 10, 2011 and June 14, 2011.

 In our attention deficit world of news sound bites and 140 character tweets it is not surprising that many people believe the Fort Sheridan land dispute is not only a settled issue but that the golf course proposal is dead.  Well, it should be. But this is not the case. The issue is very much alive. The development of a golf course is a very real possibility. And the main event may very well be occurring in the next few weeks.

Following is an email summary recently distributed by County Forest Board Commissioner Anne Flanigan Bassi:

from countyafb@comcast.net
to
date Mon, Apr 11, 2011 at 8:48 AM
subject Ft. Sheridan Forest Preserve

The Ft. Sheridan Forest Preserve property is an environmental, educational, recreational and historical treasure for the Residents of Lake County.  Over the course of the next few months, Forest Preserve Board will be discussing the next step in the process of developing this unique preserve at the following meetings:

Forest Preserve Board meeting April 12, 2011, County Building, 10th Floor, 11:00 a.m., or 30 minutes following the County Board meeting, whichever is earlier:

  • Executive Director Hahn will give a brief presentation of the Fort Sheridan project history to the board for the benefit of new Board members.

Forest Preserve Board meeting May 10, 2011, County Building, 10th Floor, 11:00 a.m., or 30 minutes following the County Board meeting, whichever is earlier.

  • Advisory Committee Facilitator Susan Parks will present a summary of the Fort Sheridan Advisory Committee Report to the Board of Commissioners during its regularly scheduled board meeting.
  • Staff will review the financial aspects and implications of the project will be presented by District staff.

Forest Preserve Board meeting June 14, 2011, County Building, 10th Floor, 11:00 a.m., or 30 minutes following the County Board meeting, whichever is earlier:

  • The Board of Commissioners will continue discussion regarding the Ft. Sheridan Advisory Committee plan, options and financial issues at its regularly scheduled board meeting.  Potentially, the board could reach a decision at this meeting regarding the next step in the process.

Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve History

The 259 acre Fort Sheridan Preserve, which included Lake Michigan beachfront, bluffs, ravines, open space and golf course, was transferred to the Forest Preserves District by the U. S. Department of the Army in three increments between 1999 and 2001, and the District received the final deed in 2002.  The property was accepted by the Forest Preserve District on behalf of Lake County residents, and the transfer was subject to a deed restriction stipulating that use of the property is restricted to public open space and a golf course.  Forest Preserve maintenance of the Ft. Sheridan Cemetery was also part of the transfer agreement.

We are fortunate to have received this valuable property from the Army.   For more information of the site’s history and characteristics, please visit http://www.lcfpd.org/preserves/index.cfm?fuseaction=home.view&object_id=163&type=SF

Forest Preserve referenda in 1993 and 1999 allocated $5.5 million toward public access, road and restoration improvements on the property.  Over the years, other funding from the Land Development Levy, Insurance Fund, grant funding and litigation settlement has been added to the $5.5 million.  To date, approximately $7 million has been expended on restoration of Hutchinson Ravine (for which the District won national awards), Janes Ravine, roads, trail bridge, a Lake Michigan bike/walking trail connecting to the McClory Trail, a wood chip trail along the wooded ravine, a stormwater management channel to protect the restored ravines from future erosion, demolition of structures, dirt pile remediation and litigation costs.

Completion of the initial ravine, trail and public access work in the spring of 2006 provided Lake County residents with access to the Preserve’s wooded ravines and Lake Michigan beaches and bluffs, among Illinois’ most unique natural resources.

Golf Course:

In the fall of 2003, with declining revenues and deteriorating course conditions, the District closed the old golf course anticipating, in good faith, that the reconstruction of the course would begin in 2004.

The bids received in 2004 were more than $5 million over the budget estimates supplied to the Commissioners at the time they approved the project.  While the voter-approved referendum funds are specifically designated for public access and restoration improvements, all Forest Preserve golf courses are accounted for in an Enterprise fund.  Golf operations, including operating expenses and debt service to retire loans incurred to develop the course, are financed from course revenues.

Litigation:

During the course of bidding on the project, the District was also working aggressively toward closeout of the agreement with the residential developer, the Town of Ft. Sheridan, LLC (TOFS), to remove the illegal “open dump” of 235,000 cubic yards of dirt that TOFS had stored on the Forest Preserve property, and to demolish structures in accordance with our contract with TOFS.  Since these stockpiles have a major impact on the design, budget and construction of the course, the District was unable to move forward on evaluating golf course options until the litigation was resolved.

Public Access & Restoration 2005-2006:

While the lawsuit was in process, the following public access improvements moved forward and opened to the public:

• Trails and parking opened

• Natural areas improved

• Trailside exhibits installed

• Educational curriculum completed

• Military cemetery enhanced

Post-Litigation 2008-2009

The lawsuit settled following 3+ years of negotiations.  The Forest Preserve District used funding from the settlement to help pay for processing the stockpiles, separating debris that requires disposal from usable, clean fill. Remaining clean fill was used to:

• Sculpt the surrounding landscape of the old airfield

• Reroute storm water

• Support future use of the site: The recently completed earthmoving was designed to support use of the area for a golf course or other public use.

In June of 2009, the Forest Preserve Board of Commissioners considered resolutions to prepare specifications to re-bid the Ft. Sheridan Golf Course.  Under consideration were two options:  (1) the existing master plan course originally bid in 2004 (which had come in almost $5 million over budget five years earlier) and (2) a scaled-down, value-engineered course.  The cost to prepare bidding specifications for architectural, engineering and construction contracts was estimated to be approximately $250,000 for either option.

Given division on the issue among the Commissioners and the communities, the Board of Commissioners voted not to proceed with re-bidding the course at that time and instead appoint an Advisory committee of stakeholders to work with a planner to consider uses for the property.

Planning Advisory Committee 2009-2010

A Fort Sheridan Master Plan Advisory Committee was created to make a recommendation about the fu­ture of the golf course and other public uses at the Fort Sheridan preserve.

• Committee members included representatives from neighboring cities and park districts, Forest Pre­serve Commissioners from those communities, the Fort Sheridan Homeowners Association, the U.S. Department of the Army and the 10th District Congressional office.

• The committee held a series of six public meetings to discuss various options.

• In early 2011, the Advisory Committee submitted a report of its findings to the Lake County Forest Preserves Board of Commissioners. The report included a compromise recommendation reached by the commit­tee and summarized the public input it received on the issue.

A copy of the report is attached.

The Committee’s recommendation will be discussed at the May 10 and June 14 Board of Commissioner meetings.

Anne Flanigan Bassi
Forest Preserve Commissioner
District 23
847-432-6291