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Article updated: 1/7/2013 7:01 PM

Tollway need could be bonus for Lake County forest district

By Mick Zawislak

Good timing could result in significant land restoration and expanded public access to the Des Plaines River Trail in northern Lake County much sooner than expected and at no cost to the Lake County Forest Preserve District.

Besides nearly three miles of trails and a parking lot, new wetlands would be created and other areas restored as part of a potential $8.5 million to $9 million project to be funded by the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority at Pine Dunes Forest Preserve near Wadsworth in Newport Township.

Two forest board committees on Monday agreed, and a third committee on Thursday is expected to direct the staff to work out a formal agreement with the tollway authority for the recently acquired addition to Pine Dunes, north of Edwards Road between Old Route 41 and Hunt Club Road.

The tollway needs to compensate for impacts on 26 acres of wetlands or water involved with the pending construction of the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway extension to create western access to O'Hare International Airport. The required mitigation of 80 acres is not possible in that vicinity because of federal regulations and existing development, according to the district.

"We submitted several sites, but this was the only one that met their criteria, and the toughest one was having newly acquired land," said Jim Anderson, natural resource manager for the forest preserve district.

After many years of interest, the forest district in December acquired the 315-acre site -- once considered for a commercial wind farm -- as an addition to Pine Dunes.

"The stars were aligned perfectly for us to be buying (and) the tollway to be needing property," said forest Commissioner Carol Calabresa, chair of the district's land preservation and acquisition committee.

As envisioned, the project would include about 2.6 miles of trails, a 40-car parking lot, a drinking-water well, a restroom, boardwalks, landscaping, benches and signs on rolling topography.

The trail system at Pine Dunes would connect with Van Patten Woods to the east and extend west from Old Route 41 to Hunt Club Road.

Also, about 286 acres of wetlands and more than a mile of stream corridors would be restored. That work would involve planting 6,000 trees and shrubs and 240,000 wetland plants.

"Not only are they restoring the wetlands, they're restoring the entire site," Anderson said.

Construction could start later this year, with major work expected in 2014. The trails and parking lot would be built to district specifications.

"To be able to purchase the site and say we're going to have something open in two years, that doesn't happen," forest Commissioner Bonnie Thomson Carter said Monday during a discussion of the proposal by the land preservation and acquisition committee.

In a separate project, the district plans to build a 1,000-foot section of trail along Russell Road to complete the connection with the northern end of the Des Plaines River Trail. Future possibilities include trails extending west from Hunt Club Road to other forest preserves in the northern part of the county.

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