Tag Archives: public access

Pre-Construction Engineering to Begin at Fort Sheridan

An engineering services contract will be let to prepare bidding and contract documents for implementation of the Public Access Improvements as part of the Fort Sheridan Master Plan.  The contract requires committee and board approval. The Planning Committee will consider this matter at its June 6, 2016 meeting.

It is important to note this is for the engineering services and not for the actual implementation and restoration work.

BACKGROUND:

The Fort Sheridan Master Plan was approved by the Board on November 10, 2015. As part of the Plan approval, the Board directed staff to proceed with the implementation of all public access and restoration work north of the Parade Grounds. The public access portion of the work includes improvements and reconfiguration of the existing access drive, a new paved 45-car parking lot with an evaporator toilet, trailhead improvements at the north parking lot with an evaporator toilet, 0.7 miles of new asphalt trail, improvements to the existing 1.8 mile grass trail, removal of the remaining section of George Bell Road, accessibility improvements to the existing Hutchinson Trail, five new timber boardwalks/bridges, and two scenic overlooks.

The engineering services contract will provide land surveying, wetland delineation, data collection, subsurface drainage inventory, permitting and agency coordination, design, engineering, geotechnical investigation, hydrologic/hydraulic analysis, and preparation of bidding and contract documents. Engineering work is scheduled to begin in July 2016 with completion anticipated in January 2017.

FINANCIAL DATA:

This project was approved as part of the adopted FY2015/2016 Capital Improvement Plan in the amount of $2,943,146.00. This portion of the project (engineering services) was estimated at $262,228.00. The actual cost is $220,765.00

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

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.