As the mild winter transitions into an early spring, many suburban residents have found their way to local forest preserves to enjoy a rare warm March outdoors.
While forest preserve officials have attempted to expedite the readiness of the facilities throughout the suburbs, some locations are more open than others.
"It does present us with some special challenges," said Arnold Randall, Cook County Forest Preserve's general superintendent. "It's been unusual and we're adjusting just as everyone else is adjusting to the very unusual weather patterns."
Randall isn't willing to call it a season on winter just yet. Seasonal restrooms in Cook County's forest preserves will remain closed until mid-April he said to avoid any late freezes that could damage pipes. However, he points out that many forest preserves have year-round restrooms that are heated and the district has stepped up servicing portable restrooms as well.
"We would service those less in the winter months, but we're doubling the number of visits to service those units," he said. "We're increasing our garbage collection rounds as well."
Randall said the district has done this without incurring any overtime costs because it has shifted staff that would normally handle winter weather issues.
That seems to be a common method for forest preserve officials to deal with their districts' changing needs.
"It's kind of unprecedented, with this weather, that we could get them open," said Wendy Kummerer, communications manager for the McHenry County Conservation District.
Kummerer said rangers opened almost all of the district's sites two weeks early because of the run of warm weather. She said the rangers fit the additional work into their schedules.
In DuPage County, instead of overseeing wintertime activities -- because there are none -- workers there have been stepping up trail maintenance and other cosmetic projects that would normally wait until April or May. The DuPage County Forest Preserve District traditionally opens parking lots and washrooms on March 1, and this year was no different, officials there said.
But district golf courses in DuPage are already open or will be open soon, just as in Cook and Lake counties.
"They're always ready for warm weather and their schedules are pretty flexible," Randall said of Cook County's 10 golf courses.
Lake County has turned on the water fountains in its forest preserves much earlier than it normally would to accommodate the glut of visitors seen at the facilities in recent weeks.
"We typically wait until we don't think we'll get another hard freeze," said Mike Tully, the district's director of operations and public safety. "I imagine we're safe."
This past weekend had Lake County forest preserves teeming with activity, Tully said.
"It looked like a weekend in July except none of the trees had leaves," he said. "You could smell the burgers and the chicken cooking. It was a regular summer Sunday."
Yet despite the warmth, not all warm-weather activities are being amped up. Kane County Forest Preserve officials said there are no plans to move up opening day for the district's campgrounds from May 1.
Randall said his district has received "a couple" of complaints about some of the facilities not being ready for visitors yet.
"But most people understand it's only mid-March," he said.