More than 800 acres of open space were permanently protected in Lake County in 2012, bringing the total of preserved open space to 51,788 acres or 86 percent of the 60,000-acre goal set by Conserve Lake County, an alliance of conservation organizations in 2009.
"This year's efforts by the Lake County Forest Preserve District and other conservation organizations will help protect the quality of life in this county in many ways for years to come," said Steve Barg, executive director of Conserve Lake County, formerly Liberty Prairie Conservancy.
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"Benefits will accrue to everything from property values and business climate to environmental health and people's well-being. Many of this year's projects protect important waterways, a growing area of concern. Plus, our local songbirds and butterflies now have additional places of refuge that are much-needed."
The Lake County Forest Preserve District continued to lead the effort by purchasing 687 acres including the new 227-acre Lake Marie Forest Preserve near Antioch and a 318-acre addition to Pine Dunes Forest Preserve near Wadsworth. Grant Woods Forest Preserve near Fox Lake was also expanded with a 142-acre addition.
The Lake County Forest Preserve District now protects a total of 30,012 acres for the benefit and enjoyment of all county residents.
On another front, several entities near Barrington teamed up to preserve an oak forest at the 15-acre Barkley Woods, now owned by Cuba Township and the Village of Tower Lakes and protected through a conservation easement with help from the Barrington Area Conservation Trust, Citizens for Conservation and Illinois Nature Preserves Commission.
Also in Barrington, private lands were preserved when Citizens for Conservation purchased 3 acres along the Fox River. Another privately owned parcel that received protection was the 101-acre Dokum Mskoda Nature Preserve near Waukegan. The site is owned by the Fields of Cambridge Condominium Owners Association and Conserve Lake County, with state protection bestowed by the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission.
Landowners continue to increase their support for preservation of open space through strategies in which private properties remain in private ownership. In Lake County, such landowners have permanently protected a total of 3,106 acres through tools such as conservation easements, voluntary but legally binding agreements that prevent or greatly restrict development.
When a parcel supports high quality remnant ecosystems, another strategy used by both public and private landowners is dedication of the property through the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission, which works with willing landowners to protect the state's highest quality remaining natural areas.
In 2009, Conserve Lake County led a countywide coalition of 17 organizations in an effort to determine a target goal for the amount of open space to ultimately protect in Lake County. The group determined that if 20 percent of the county is preserved as open space, its residents will be well-positioned for physical, mental, ecological and economic health well into the future.
In many cases, these groups also devote significant resources to managing their properties in order to retain or create healthy landscapes. And they frequently help children and adults to connect with the properties so they may enjoy and value the lands and join in the rewarding process of stewarding them.