DuPage County Forest Preserve officials have compiled a lengthy to-do list for 2014, including creating wetlands, improving habitats and repairing historic buildings.
"This is my last year and I wanted to make certain all these various projects the board is looking to do are on the list," said forest preserve President D. "Dewey" Pierotti, Jr., who is retiring from the commission in November.
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While Pierotti acknowledges some of the projects won't be completed this year, he said he wanted the comprehensive list to serve as a reminder to forest preserve commissioners and whoever replaces him as president.
"They will have that information in front of them," Pierotti said. "So they will know these are things we should be addressing and we should be looking forward to doing."
One project expected to be completed in the fall is the relocation of a model airplane field and an off-leash dog area at the Pratt's Wayne Woods Forest Preserve near Wayne.
The changes are possible because of a deal the forest preserve district made more than two years ago with the Canadian National Railway Co.
Under the agreement, the district is temporarily providing five acres of land to Canadian National. The company is using the site in the north-central part of the preserve to store material and equipment while making track improvements on its own property.
In exchange, Canadian National will provide the district with facilities and land enhancements worth roughly $3.1 million.
The improvements include relocating the model airplane field and the off-leash dog area, which are on the east side of Powis Road, to spots better suited to the public, officials said. The new off-leash dog area will be in nearby Hawk Hollow Forest Preserve near Hanover Park. The model aircraft facility will be moved to a location off Stearns Road in Pratt's Wayne Woods.
The district's long-range plan had called for both facilities to be moved because they are adjacent a high-quality habitat. Once the moves are complete, the areas will be restored to a natural habitat.
When the rail work is finished, Canadian National will restore the land it's using and perform both wetland mitigation and habitat improvements. The company already has created a new compensatory water storage area that will become a functioning wetland habitat.
Meanwhile, work will continue on two multimillion dollar projects along the West Branch of the DuPage River that the forest preserve district is overseeing along with DuPage County's stormwater management department.
The first is a roughly $8.1 million wetlands project at the West Branch Forest Preserve near Bartlett. As part of the work, 95.5 acres of wetlands will be created at the preserve and 13 acres of existing wetlands will be enhanced. In addition, a stretch of the West Branch that runs through the forest preserve will be restored with the goal of reconnecting it with the floodplain and improving the health of the river system, officials said.
Miles downstream, crews are making improvements to McDowell Grove Forest Preserve near Naperville. That work includes selectively removing buckthorn and other invasive plants in 33 acres of floodplain so the area can be restocked with native species. The native plants will hold the soil and prevent it from washing into the river and becoming sediment, officials said.
Work planned for this year at the McDowell Grove and West Branch preserves includes the continuation of "plug planting and seeding native plant species" in the river bed, bank and floodplain wetlands, officials said.
At Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve in Darien, there will be continued habitat restoration work. Nonnative and invasive plants will be removed from both the Musk Turtle Marsh and nearby Kettle Woods areas. Native species plants then will be added.
Officials also plan to start a habitat improvement project at Dunham Forest Preserve near Wayne. Roughly 70 acres is going to be restored.
Several buildings owned by the district are slated to get improvements. Work already has started at Willowbrook Wildlife Center in Glen Ellyn, where a larger parking lot will be built with permeable pavers that will better address drainage issues.
Longer term plans for the site include constructing a new visitor center and renovating the outdoor exhibit area. Officials say there's no timetable for those plans, which will depend on fundraising efforts.
Commissioners have agreed to spend about $535,000 to renovate the Ben Fuller House in Fullersburg Woods Forest Preserve in Oak Brook. Once the district gets a $100,000 grant from the state, it's expected to proceed with plans to convert the historic house at York and Spring roads into an interpretive center.
Another historic structure, Graue Mill in Oak Brook, is scheduled to get some repairs. A structural engineer has said the work is needed to preserve the safety and integrity of the 161-year-old mill along York Road.
Meanwhile, the renovation of the off-leash dog area at Mayslake in Oak Brook should be completed by the summer. The $250,000 project will add various amenities, including mini-shelters, a new loop trail and a new fenced-in area for small dogs.
Other issues forest preserve district officials expect to address in 2014 include the development of new education courses, the 25th anniversary of Kline Creek Farm in West Chicago and a proposal to transform a house at Timber Ridge Forest Preserve near West Chicago into an adult cultural center.
Drafting a strategic plan also will be a priority.
"One thing everybody asks is where is the district at in terms of land acquisition," said Sue Olafson, forest preserve spokeswoman. The other issue is whether the district should only be focused on supporting the land it has.
"Those are the kinds of questions we need to get answered from a strategic standpoint," Olafson said.