Lasting legacy: Forest Preserve grows by more than 1,500 acres
The Forest Preserve District has added more than 1,500 acres in the past two years through a land acquisition program launched in late 2019.
Some of the land was purchased, some donated and some was transferred from the state. All of it will be owned in perpetuity and 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.
Through the years, the District has grown from 143 acres purchased in January 1930 to more than 21,000 acres today. The Forest Preserve controls around 23,000 acres when leased and managed land is included in the total.
Since the recent acquisition program began, the Forest Preserve has purchased 1,509 acres. Another 120 acres are pending and will be acquired after the acquisitions are finalized later this year.
Expanding or buffering
The Forest Preserve's Board of Commissioners approved a $25 million bond issue in November 2019 that included $12 million for land acquisition and $13 for development of Forest Preserve properties.
Various factors are used to rank parcels as the District seeks to acquire land, said Colleen Novander, the Forest Preserve District’s director of planning and land preservation. Land will be ranked higher if it expands or buffers a preserve or greenway, or was previously included in a Forest Preserve land evaluation program.
“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.”
The District also considers whether a parcel will lead to beneficial partnerships.
“For instance, we’re helping the Plainfield Township Park District acquire a parcel that will help fill in a gap in the DuPage River Trail System,” Novander said.
That acquisition will benefit Plainfield Township residents, but also all Will County residents who enjoy and use the trail, so it’s a win for both organizations, she said.
To kick off this latest land acquisition effort, Forest Preserve staff used a previous land acquisition list and narrowed down the parcels to those that were still available and had willing sellers. (The District only buys land from willing sellers.) Then, the desired parcels were brought to a Citizens Advisory Committee for review. Ultimately, all negotiated parcels need Forest Preserve Committee and Board approval before they can be acquired.
Bond money isn’t the only resource used for land acquisition. The District also receives land donations and uses fund balances and grant funds to acquire land.
For instance, reserve funds are being used to purchase the 30-acre Hidden Oaks Nature Center/Hidden Lake Trout Farm from the Bolingbrook Park District later this month. And the District received two Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation grants to help buy 128 acres of land adjacent to Hadley Valley. The grants were for 80 percent of the purchase price.
Here are the 2020-2021 land purchase highlights:
- 199.928 acres of the former Longwood Country Club and Golf Course were added to Plum Valley Ravines in Crete Township. Surrounded on two sides by the existing Forest Preserve, the property is now part of the nearly 3,800 acres of protected land within the Plum Creek Greenway in Will and Cook Counties.
- 201.745 acres were added to Moeller Woods in Crete Township. The land was purchased from Trinity Lutheran Church and Trinity Lutheran High School and is directly south of the existing Moeller Woods. This acquisition fills in a gap within the greenway and it brings the District one step closer to connecting Plum Valley Preserve to Moeller Woods.
- 0.38 acres were added to Riverview Farmstead Preserve in Wheatland Township. This acquisition will allow for the safe extension of the DuPage River Trail by the vacation of Old Book Road, which means cars will no longer be allowed on this section of road.
- 40.292 acres were added to Hadley Valley Preserve in Homer Township. This acquisition helps connect Forest Preserve holdings at this location and removes almost the entire gap that once existed from Farrell Road to Messenger Woods.
- 40.059 acres of Tempest Farm in Washington Township were donated to the Forest Preserve District. This is the first phase of an ultimate 160-acre farmstead donation from Lisbet Temple in honor of her late husband, Dr. Arvid Temple.
- 466.8 acres were added to Thorn Creek Woods Nature Preserve in Monee Township. The land was transferred from the State of Illinois to the District. The Forest Preserve had been managing the land for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources since 1986. Owning the land will allow the District to have a more cohesive management plan for the site and to apply for more enhancement grants.
- 35.32 acres (the former Cherry Creek Nursery) were added to Plum Valley Preserve in Crete Township. This acquisition moves the District closer to connecting with Moeller Woods. Two existing pole barns on the property will be repurposed by the Forest Preserve.
- 160.789 acres added to Forked Creek Preserve in Wesley Township has been sought for many years. This was the final piece that connected the District's previous holdings at this location. This new parcel contains a portion of the creek and it expands the preserve and allows the District more opportunities to possibly create a greenway trail from Forsythe Woods to Forked Creek Preserve – Ballou Road Access.
- 360.76 acres (in three separate acquisitions) were added to Jackson Creek Preserve in Manhattan Township. Enlarging Jackson Creek helps provide flood control for the region. This acquisition also will help the District establish the foundation for a Jackson Creek Greenway with future regional connections to the Old Plank Road Trail and the Wauponsee Glacial Trail.
- 3.2 acres added to Theodore Marsh Preserve in Troy Township expands the preserve and provides opportunities for the District to redesign the Rock Run Greenway Trail and make ADA improvements at that location.
- 72.81 acres adjacent to Black Walnut Preserve in Crete Township are pending. This acquisition will expand the preserve.
- 47.5 acres adjacent to Hadley Valley Preserve in Homer Township are pending and will expand the preserve and fill in a gap.
When she looks back on the past two years, Novander said she is proud of the land the Forest Preserve has acquired so far. And it’s rewarding to see the sales and donations come to fruition, she added.
“When a property owner’s preservation goals and ours align, it’s really something special,” she said. “People who sell or donate their land to the District often do so because they know it’s going to be protected in perpetuity.
"The land is not going to turn into a warehouse or a commercial site. It’s going to be a lasting legacy that you can have your grandkids visit and know this was once your family’s land and now it’s a forest preserve.”
The land acquisition program will continue until the $2.6 million left in the acquisition fund is expended.