End of an era? Lake County may end Civil War Days event

Civil War Days will go on as scheduled next month in the Lakewood Forest Preserve near Wauconda, but it may be the swan song for what's been a popular event for 27 years.

Whether or in what form the long-running program returns remains uncertain, and for a time this week even this year's event was canceled.

The Lake County Forest Preserve District posted a cancellation notice for the event its website Monday afternoon. The abrupt move came at the directive of Angelo Kyle, president of the forest district's board.

The move took other commissioners by surprise as they assembled Tuesday morning for their regularly scheduled meeting. A lengthy and sometimes pointed discussion followed, traversing not only board procedures, but also the value and message of the Civil War re-enactment.

“I believe it has run its course. It has fulfilled whatever it's purpose was,” said Kyle.

“This is a re-enactment of a war over the enslavement of African Americans and there are some people who don't want to be reminded of that,” he later added. “Some of the things that really happened are not in the history books.”

Believing he has the authority to call off the event, Kyle said he made the decision because the district was under “time constraints” involving contractual agreements.

But after listening to fellow commissioners Tuesday, he reversed his stance and apologized for the confusion. He said he didn't want to expose the district to legal action regarding outstanding contracts but added “this will be the final Civil War Days.”

The issue is an emotional one for some.

“This ugly, racist, evil war is nothing to be celebrated nor re-enacted,” activist Ralph Peterson Jr., said during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Peterson said he represents activists, Black Lives Matter, clergy and “caring, conscious residents of all persuasions.”

Commissioners generally agreed there needs to be a more involved discussion of the event.

“Your comments are persuasive,” Commissioner Steve Carlson of Grandwood Park told Kyle. “My issue is with procedure, how this was done.”

Several commissioners said the matter should have been brought forward for discussion through the board's committee process.

“I think that every commissioner of the forest preserve district had a right to have a voice and has a right to have a voice on these types of educational and operational programs,” Commissioner Michael Danforth of Fox River Grove said.

Forest preserve Executive Director Ty Kovach said he understands the argument about procedure, but there were other considerations at play.

“There's really an opportunity for us to take a step back and embrace other opinions on this and design a program that is much more inclusive in the future,” he said.

Officials say the future of Civil War Days will be determined in the during budget discussions in the fall. For now, this year's event remains on schedule for July 13 and 14 at Lakewood. Past events have featured battle re-enactments, actors portraying historical figures, period crafts and games and military and civilian encampments.

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Re-enactors restage the Battle for Vicksburg in Wauconda forest preserve

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