Lake County Forest Preserve District Executive Director Tom Hahn will end his 13-year career with the Lake County Forest Preserve District early next year. Hahn, the district's top administrator for the last eight years, confirmed Friday he will retire in March.
Hahn's departure won't be the only change to the district administration next year. Mike Fenelon, the longtime director of planning conservation and development, will retire in February.
Hahn announced both personnel moves in an email to forest district commissioners Thursday.
Hahn explained why he's stepping down in a subsequent telephone interview.
"I set a number of goals for myself internally. I knew where I wanted to go," Hahn said Friday. "And to tell you the truth, many of those goals have been met."
Hahn, 59, of Mokena, was the district's land preservation director before being promoted to the top job. He helped arrange the purchase of some 9,500 acres during his tenure.
Commissioners were quick to praise his work.
"Tom shared the vision of the commissioners, the belief in preservation and protection of open space," said forest district Commissioner Bonnie Thomson Carter, who named Hahn interim executive director in 2004 when she was the board's president. "He knew the forest preserve was a forest preserve, not a park district."
Hahn came to the forest district from Corlands, which then was a land trust affiliate of the nonprofit group Openlands.
Under his leadership, the district's holdings grew to nearly 30,000 acres. The district's land bank should exceed that figure with an unspecified deal in November, Hahn said.
"It's just a number, but in my mind I really wanted to get the district up to 30,000 acres," Hahn said.
Twenty-three new preserves have been created during Hahn's tenure.
"The work Lake County does has set the standard for the region," said Jerry Adelmann, president and CEO of Openlands.
Fenelon, a 58-year-old McHenry resident, has worked with the district since 1980, shortly after he graduated college. Working his way up from landscape architect, Fenelon developed an institutional knowledge of the county, the district's holdings and its projects that cannot be replicated, officials said.
"(They say) everybody is replaceable, but I don't know if that's true in this case," Carter said. "He has touched everything that has gone on here."
Hahn sang Fenelon's praises, too.
"His incredible talents will be appreciated for generations to come as his design skills and commitment to restoration are on display throughout our 30,000 acres," Hahn wrote in the email to the commissioners. "Every single preserve that is open to the public has his imprint."
Fenelon fell in love with public service early in his tenure and quickly recognized the importance of land preservation in what was then a rapidly growing county.
"This is a career I could never have planned," he said.
Fenelon called the decades-long development of the Independence Grove Forest Preserve near Libertyville his greatest accomplishment. A former gravel quarry that now features a man-made lake, trails and other popular amenities, the 1,145-acre site is one of the district's jewels.
"I put my heard and soul into (it) for many years," Fenelon said of the preserve, which opened to the public in 2001. "We never had a project on that scale before."
Both men will leave a great legacy of environmental conservation and stewardship in Lake County, Adelmann said.
"(They've) taken the district to a whole new level," he said. "It's going to be a real loss for Lake County and the region ... but they've earned retirement."
The district's finance director, Bonnie McLeod, earlier announced plans to retire at the end of this year. She will stay on part-time to help train her eventual replacement, officials said.