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updated: 3/2/2012 7:38 PM

Lake County forest board may ask to abandon golf plans at Fort Sheridan

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  • PAUL VALADE/pvalade@dailyherald.com, 2009  Lake County Forest Preserve District officials could vote to ask the U.S. Army to let them abandon golf plans at the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve near Highland Park. The Army used to own the land.

      PAUL VALADE/pvalade@dailyherald.com, 2009 Lake County Forest Preserve District officials could vote to ask the U.S. Army to let them abandon golf plans at the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve near Highland Park. The Army used to own the land.

  • Video: Officials talk Fort Sheridan

 
 

Nine years after tearing up the golf course at the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve, forest district leaders may take steps next week that will do away with the sport there for good.

Commissioners on Tuesday will be asked to approve a resolution requesting the Army, which formerly owned the roughly 250-acre property near Highland Park, to remove a stipulation requiring a golf course be operated on the site in perpetuity.

The clause was included in the contract that led the Army to transfer the land to the forest preserve district in stages between 1998 and 2001.

The 18-hole golf course the Army had operated there was removed in preparation for the construction of a high-end, public course. But that project was halted in 2004 after updated cost estimates came in millions of dollars higher than originally discussed.

No golf has been played at Fort Sheridan since then. And in that time, golf play has decreased nationally and in Lake County, with rounds at the district's four courses dropping 23 percent over the past five years, according to district documents.

With a proposal to seek private developers to build and operate a 9-hole course recently yielding no takers, Executive Director Tom Hahn believes it's time to change direction.

"Building a golf course at Fort Sheridan has proved neither financially prudent nor practical," Hahn said in a memo to the board that was publicly released Friday. "It is recommended that the Lake County Forest Preserve District request that the Department of the Army remove the deed restriction regarding a golf course."

If that request is successful, Hahn wrote, the board should develop a new, long-term plan for the site "incorporating typical forest preserve district amenities such as trails, habitat restoration and scenic overlooks."

Such improvements already have been made elsewhere at the preserve, along with the creation of educational displays and attractions.

Forest district commissioners long have disagreed about the future of Fort Sheridan, which overlooks Lake Michigan.

Many have said ongoing national and local declines in golf play and the recession have made such a project financially unfeasible. Others have insisted they must have golf in some form to meet the terms of the Army deal.

Bonnie Thomson Carter, an Ingleside Republican who was forest board president when the Fort Sheridan course was torn up and when the plan was put on hold, is among the commissioners who favors spiking the golf clause.

Times have changed since plans for a high-end golf course at the preserve were developed a decade ago, Carter said.

"To me it's a no-brainer," she said. "At the time the decision (to improve the course) was made, it made sense. It no longer makes sense, and it hasn't made sense in several years."

Residents of the adjoining Town of Fort Sheridan have gotten involved in the scrum, too. Some have demanded the district stick to the original plan and build a golf course, while others have said they'd prefer a more natural setting at the preserve.

A Fort Sheridan homeowners association long has campaigned for golf's return at the preserve. President Chuck Bley couldn't be reached for comment Friday.

In late 2010, an advisory committee consisting of board members, residents and area municipal leaders recommended the district pursue private development of a 9-hole course.

The forest board unenthusastically sought corporate proposals. Invitations were sent to more than 900 builders, developers and golf management companies, but no one stepped up to lead the roughly $10 million project by a January deadline.

Tuesday's meeting is the first time the forest board will discuss Fort Sheridan's future since then.

The meeting is scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. or 30 minutes after an earlier Lake County Board meeting, whichever is later. It will be at the county government center in downtown Waukegan.

Forest district Commissioner Steve Carlson, one of the more outspoken critics of building a new golf course, said officials should have made the request to the Army years ago. A new golf course isn't needed in the county, nor is it really wanted -- "except by a very few," said Carlson, a Gurnee Republican.

"I think it's the only fiscally responsible course of action we could possibly take," he said.

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