A $10.3 million acquisition being pursued by the Lake County Forest Preserve District would provide a key link to the Millennium Trail and expand a sprawling collection of open spaces in the northern part of the county.
The 315-acre site in Newport Township, once considered for a wind farm, would become an addition to the Pine Dunes Forest Preserve. Its size and location along and north of Edwards Road, between old Route 41 and Hunt Club Road, would provide significant opportunities for restoration of wetland and grassland bird habitat as well as hiking, biking and horseback riding trails, according to the district.
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The purchase also would create a crucial link for the Millennium Trail and eventually fill a gap among five forest preserves and a state natural area that span 5,300 of acres in northern Lake County, officials say.
"It provides a real critical connection," said Tom Hahn, the district's executive director.
The forest preserve district's land preservation and acquisition committee recommended approval of the purchase. The district's finance and administrative committee will take up the proposal on Thursday, and the full board could consider it Nov. 20. Pending approvals, the deal would close in about 60 days.
The property and an easement being obtained from the seller would extend to old Route 41 to a trail planned by the state as part of a project along Russell Road east of the Tri-State tollway. That would bring a trail to within about 1,000 feet of the parking lot at the Van Patten Woods Forest Preserve and the northern end of the 31-mile Des Plaines River Trail.
"One of the challenges we've had is getting over the Tri-State Tollway from west to east," Hahn said.
The site encompasses a diverse environment of rolling topography, prairie, savanna, woodlands, streams, ponds and wetlands. The area has been identified as critical nesting and foraging areas for a variety of birds and other wildlife, according to the forest preserve district.
A master planning process for Pine Dunes is under way with a second public meeting planned early next year.
The acquisition would expand Pine Dunes to 751 acres and eventually fill a gap between forest preserves and the Millennium Trail west of Route 41 and forest preserves and the Des Plaines River trail to the east.
The pending purchase is part of a bigger picture, Hahn said.
"It really started in the year 2000 when we had a plan to create a linked greenway system in the northern part of the county," he said.
Several acquisitions have been made in the northern area the past 12 years, including what are now the Dutch Gap, Raven Glen and Ethel's Woods forest preserves.
Pending approval of the Pine Dunes purchase, the forest preserve district will have about $35 million in land acquisition funds remaining from a 2008 referendum that provided $185 million to buy land and improve public access.
The acquisition amounts to about $32,500 an acre, still considered a good price in what remains a tough real estate market. It also would put the district holdings over 30,000 acres, second in the Chicago area only to the Cook County Forest Preserve District.