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posted: 3/19/2013 6:46 PM

Forest Preserve District seeks to get residents back to nature

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  • The forest preserve district wants more visitors to enjoy the beauty of Crabtree Nature Preserve.

    The forest preserve district wants more visitors to enjoy the beauty of Crabtree Nature Preserve.
    Daily Herald File Photo


Don't expect baseball fields or ATV trails in the Forest Preserve District of Cook County's new recreation master plan.

Instead, the first recreation blueprint since 1929 will spend up to $8.6 million to encourage visitors to commune with nature and lose weight through activities such as sledding, canoeing, camping and archery.

"We are about to celebrate our 100th anniversary ... we want to make sure people know who we are and see us as a resource," Planning and Development Director Chris Slattery said.

Forest preserve commissioners Tuesday heard details of the master plan, which will start being implemented this year.

"We're looking for nature-based recreation that has a minimal impact on the natural environment," Slattery said.

Among the improvements is $507,500 for Rolling Knolls, a former golf course and new forest preserve near Elgin once owned by Commissioner Tim Schneider's family.

The district wants to add a walking loop with fitness stations, an ice skating pond and sled hill. Also planned but currently unfunded are an archery area and nature play center for children. The district also intends to rent out skis and skates at the clubhouse in the winter.

Another $50,000 is allocated to establish a nature play area at Crabtree Nature Center near Barrington Hills. New features would include a water play area and treehouse. "Nature play is an emerging trend we thought was important to bring to Crabtree," Slattery said.

Also proposed are new digs at Camp Reinberg near Palatine. Plans are to erect yurt-like tents further from Quentin Road in the short-term with cabins to follow.

Slattery said troubling data about obesity among children also prompted the focus on new activities. Forty percent of suburban Cook County children were either overweight or obese, a Cook County Health Department study found.

"We're trying to get the word out that this is a free resource and encourage families to come out, get fit and develop a lifelong love of nature," Slattery said.

Supporters said it's about time the district -- criticized in the past for being more about politics than preservation -- analyzed its priorities.

"The difference now is (District Board President) Toni Preckwinkle hired the right people and told them to fix it," said Benjamin Cox, executive director of the independent Friends of the Forest Preserves group. "The previous superintendent did a good job working with what he was given but it was hampered by politics."

Cox liked the focus on "compatible recreation," which he said "facilitates the enjoyment of nature."

"These are not the plans governments make where they sit on a shelf, these are definitely plans they are putting in place," Cox said.

"It's been a long time since we've heard of anything being done, so we welcome it," said Barrington Hills Trustee Karen Selman, board vice president of the Friends of Spring Creek organization.

"We certainly don't want them turned into park districts. We want them to maintain their naturalness and wildness."

New projects are sprinkled throughout the region. Planners said they focused on sites that had existing infrastructure and room to expand.

"I think it's an appropriate mix throughout the district," Schneider of Bartlett said.

The district will pay for the work partly from loans taken out in 2012. About $3.5 million of the work is funded now and officials said they are working on securing the rest of the revenues. However, another $20 million in available capital dollars will be used for ongoing improvements such as new trails and picnic areas.

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