As the DuPage County Forest Preserve prepares to nominate Belleau Woods in Wheaton for state-sanctioned protection this month, there is concern the site may be too small to qualify for the designation.
Both Belleau Woods and Springbrook Prairie Forest Preserve in Naperville are the newest sites being considered for Illinois Nature Preserve status. If approved, this would offer more ecological protection to pristine areas of the preserves.
The district would continue to own, manage and maintain the designated preserves as it always has, but anyone who destroys natural resources or violates other regulations are subject to state penalties.
On Tuesday, however, officials said the 68 acres of Belleau Woods near Roosevelt and County Farm Roads may not include enough land to qualify as an Illinois Nature Preserve.
Erik Neidy, forest preserve manager of natural resources, said that the district may instead pursue sanctioning the land as an Illinois Land and Water Reserve. This is a tier below an Illinois Nature Preserve, Neidy said.
But it would give extra protection to more than 300 species of native plants in the preserve's upland oak forest preserve, its floodplain forest and its prairie. Belleau Woods has remained undeveloped since the district received the land in 1965.
"The same guidelines and restrictions would apply," Neidy told commissioners during a presentation Tuesday. "It's the same governing body with the same protections, but just a different designation."
Neidy added that Illinois Land and Water Reserve status requires fewer preliminary steps to achieve, too.
Commissioner Linda Painter was concerned about whether any state distinction would restrict visitors from walking through the woods to identify trees, enjoy nature or to visit with a leashed dog. Neidy assured her the preserve would still be fully available to visitors; limited access is a notion that "needs to be corrected."
"Groups of 25 people or more must have permission, but if St. Francis (the nearby high school) wants to take a class of 19 kids in there and do a tree ID, that's great. We want them there," Neidy said.
DuPage residents can learn more about both sites, ask questions and offer feedback during a presentation at 7 p.m. Monday, June 25, at Danada House, 3S501 Naperville Road, Wheaton. Staff members will discuss the benefits of pursing state nature preserve status for parts of Belleau Woods and Springbrook Prairie, outline key habitats it would protect, and discuss the positive effects the designation has had at Churchill Woods and West Chicago Prairie.
District staff members will answer questions and gather feedback from attendees. Individuals may also submit feedback via email through June 27 at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The six-member forest preserve commission will consider the feedback and vote on whether to forward the two nominations to the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission. The state commission must give final approval before the designation is official.