Donor gives $200K for Ryerson Woods master plan

A master plan for the Edward L. Ryerson Conservation Area in Riverwoods could be created sooner rather than later as a result of a $200,000 private donation.

Educational programs would get particular attention. The donation specifies the plan include details and cost estimates to build a new center to replace two old cabins that for decades have been used for that purpose.

Also known as Ryerson Woods Forest Preserve, the 550-acre site between Route 45 and Riverwoods Road in southern Lake County is popular for school field trips.

About 10,000 students visit annually and nearly all the field trips and summer camps are based out of two cabins near the main entrance that were relocated from elsewhere on the property.

Beginning about 90 years ago and for many years to follow, the area along the Des Plaines River was a country getaway for the Ryersons and other city dwellers.

One of the cabins now used for programs was a summer retreat. Ryerson's horse trainer lived in the other. Both are in decline and don't comply with the American with Disabilities Act, according to the forest preserve district.

The heating systems are outdated, the septic system was installed in the 1950s and the cabins are served by single-stall bathrooms from the 1980s.

The cabins are outdated and are being used for functions they weren't designed for, said Nan Buckardt, education director.

"These repurposed structures do not meet our education needs today," says an overview provided to forest commissioners.

A master plan is considered the blueprint for improvements to follow. Doing that at Ryerson has been on the wish list but has remained unfunded.

The $200,000 secured through the forest preserve district's charitable foundation was donated to pay for a master planning process focused on facilities used for environmental education. To accept and use the money, the forest board must amend its current budget and 10-year capital improvement plan.

The measures will be considered Monday by the board's planning committee, Thursday by its finance committee and March 10 by the full board. If approved, the Ryerson master plan process would public meetings.

Ryerson was the head of Ryerson Steel and the grandson of its founder. In 1928, he and his wife, Nora, bought land on the river and built a cabin.

The family had a longtime interest in conservation and was involved in the creation of the Lake County Forest Preserve District in 1958.

The family sold 85 acres to the forest preserves in 1966 and eventually donated the remaining 172 acres. Other properties were acquired from other families who owned cabins or land.

Ryerson has been a center of environmental education and programming since it became a forest preserve in 1972.

  This is the smaller of two classroom cabins in the Lake County Forest Preserve District's Ryerson Conservation Area near Riverwoods. Paul Valade/
  The Lake County Forest Preserve District has received a private donation of $200,000 to start master planning at the Ryerson Woods Conservation Area with a focus on upgrading environmental education. Paul Valade/
  These are the classroom cabins in the Lake County Forest Preserve District's Ryerson Conservation Area near Riverwoods. Paul Valade/
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