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Forest Preserve surpasses 23,000-acre mark with 2022 acquisitions

Two men and a child get ready to fish
Visitors prepare their fishing poles during the fall trout season at Hidden Lakes Trout Farm. (Photo by Chad Merda)

Acre by acre, the Forest Preserve District is getting bigger. 

Almost 161 acres were acquired this year, boosting the amount of land now controlled by the Forest Preserve to 23,119 acres. 

“We’ve had great success with acquiring critical lands as part the 2020-2024 land preservation program,” said Colleen Novander, the Forest Preserve’s director of planning and land preservation. “It is truly a team effort thanks to willing sellers throughout Will County and our staff.”

Since 2020, the Forest Preserve has purchased 1,678 acres with proceeds from a bond issue approved by the Board of Commissioners in November 2019. Around $3 million remains of the $12 million earmarked for land acquisition. As the land preservation program continues, the focus remains the same, Novander said. 

“We want to add value to our existing holdings, assist with community partnership opportunities, and focus on lands previously included in prior Forest Preserve Land Evaluation Programs,” she said. 

Here are the parcels acquired in 2022 

Feb. 10: Hidden Oaks Nature Center and Hidden Lakes Trout Farm, Bolingbrook, 33 acres. 
Formerly owned by the Bolingbrook Park District, this acquisition is contiguous to the Forest Preserve’s Whalon Lake Preserve and it serves as a local and regional trail hub. The purchase included a 6,972-square-foot nature center, four fishing ponds, a large pavilion with fireplace, an outdoor amphitheater, a maintenance garage and yard, hiking trails, and historical and nature exhibits. 

May 12: Kraske Preserve, Crest Hill, 6 acres. 
The property holds value to the Forest Preserve for continuity with resource management along with the opportunity to preserve open space in an area facing development pressures. This donation, in combination with Lockport Township Park District’s property and the existing Kraske Preserve, will preserve a block of approximately 80 acres of land, protecting the natural resources of the area including wetlands and floodplain.

May 19: Hadley Valley preserve, Homer Township, 47 acres.
This Spring Creek Greenway parcel buffers and protects the Forest Preserve’s existing holdings at Hadley Valley. The Forest Preserve was awarded an Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation Grant to assist with this acquisition.

Aug. 23: Black Walnut Creek Preserve, Crete, 74 acres. 
This parcel is adjacent to Black Walnut Creek Preserve. Acquisition of this property will protect high quality hydric soils, in addition to wetland and marsh habitat. 

The Forest Preserve has been purchasing land since its first acquisition of 144 acres at Messenger Woods Nature Preserve in 1930. Land acquired by the Forest Preserve is owned in perpetuity and will be enjoyed for generations to come. The open space assists in flood control, stores carbon, houses creatures and plant life, helps threatened and endangered species survive and provides recreational opportunities for residents. 

Various factors are used to rank parcels as the District seeks to acquire land. Parcels are ranked higher if they were previously included in a Forest Preserve land evaluation program. Property is also ranked higher if it expands or buffers an existing preserve or greenway because that allows for continuity in maintenance and restoration activities.

“Adding to existing preserves makes it easier for property management and the protection of natural resources,” Novander explained. “You can better control invasive species and perform larger restorations, especially when the parcels are connected and there are no gaps in the greenways.”