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Article posted: 2/5/2013 5:30 AM

Projects would boost Lake County forest preserve access

By Mick Zawislak

Proposed adjustments to the Lake County Forest Preserve District's capital plans for the upcoming budget year could result in better access to some properties, set the table for future connections and provide for other work.

But an ongoing analysis of the potential associated costs, such as added staff, could have an impact on the number, size or type of plans pursued in subsequent years as the forest board wants to keep a lid on taxes.

Various forest committees have or will consider the district's five-year Capital Improvement Program. After all have had their say, any changes in project timing or priority will be forwarded by the planning and restoration committee as recommendations to be used during work on 2013-14 budget year, which begins July 1.

The final version of the updated five-year plan is approved by the full board when the budget is adopted.

The forest district staff has suggested eight projects totaling more than $3 million be added to the capital improvement program. Costs would be offset by savings realized elsewhere or other projects being deferred. The proposed total capital budget for 2013-14 is about $14 million.

"We look at most of these as projects of opportunity," Mike Fenelon, the district's director of planning, conservation and development, said of the proposed additions during a meeting of the board's land preservation and acquisition committee Monday.

They include $700,000 for a parking lot and restroom off Route 45 and two trails at Ethel's Woods Forest Preserve, as required by terms of a state grant used to buy the property several years ago.

"This will provide the first level of access to the site," Fenelon said.

A one-mile trail and boardwalks at Buffalo Creek Forest Preserve are also being proposed at a cost of $300,000.

Other suggested work involves a $635,000 trail along Russell Road, west of Van Patten Woods, to connect the Des Plaines River Trail to another trail recently completed by the Illinois Department of Transportation over the Tri-State Tollway. This section will connect to a newly acquired portion of the Pine Dunes Forest Preserve and ultimately to Hunt Club Road.

Building an access road into the newly acquired Lake Marie property near Antioch drew a mixed response from the committee. The acquisition late last year did not include the main entrance into the former camp.

Some committee members thought the $75,000 for the road and parking lot would result in further expenses as visitors flocked to the district's only public access to the Chain O' Lakes, but the recommendation was to proceed.

Another item that generated discussion was the proposed inclusion of $750,000 as seed money for private fundraising to relocate the Lake County Discovery Museum to the district's general offices in Libertyville. District officials have said taxpayer money would not be used for that effort. Executive Director Tom Hahn said the $750,000 would be used to convert the office's heating/air conditioning system from electric to gas and would benefit the overall district, a project that could cost $1 million or more.

The wording of the recommendation will be changed to say it's for conversion of the heating system. That project won't begin until the museum moves, which isn't anticipated for at least three years.

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