Core of Lakewood Forest Preserve near Wauconda to close for $5.1 million upgrade

The core of the largest forest preserve in Lake County will close soon for the start of $5.1 million in work to improve public access and reduce operating costs.

The portion of Lakewood Forest Preserve between the main entrance off Route 176 and Ivanhoe Road, including Taylor Lake, will be off limits beginning in early June. Work is expected to be complete in September 2024.

However, parking at the winter sports hill east of Fairfield Road and south of Ivanhoe Road will be open, giving the public access to trails and other parts of the sprawling preserve east of Wauconda.

The work outlined in a comprehensive master plan approved in January 2020 focuses on the area south of Route 176 and west of Fairfield Road. That's part of the original Lakewood Farms purchase in 1968 and remains the heart of the 2,835-acre preserve.

Forest commissioners last week approved a $5.14 million contract with V3 Construction Group Ltd. of Woodridge for a package of improvements.

Among them:

• Rebuilding the main entrance and half-mile Forest Preserve Drive.

• Installing a new, paved 1.6-mile looped trail and enhancing the Millennium Trail.

• Reconstructing interior roads and two parking lots.

• Improving Shelter E accessibility.

• Adding a day use area with accessible overlooks and a fishing pier on Taylor Lake.

• Building accessible parking, toilets and amenities.

• Upgrading utilities.

"There's a lot that's going to go on there," said Ty Kovach, executive director of the Lake County Forest Preserve District.

And that's scaled back from what originally was being sought because bids were significantly higher than expected. Two new shelters, including a three-season shelter on Taylor Lake, and several other elements were deferred.

The district has $7.1 million in funds, including a $1 million grant, available for work at Lakewood. The first planned part of the work was divided into separate bid packages: site improvements and recreation facilities.

Bids for the combined packages were significantly over estimates, creating a deficit of about $4.5 million if they all were pursued.

"A lot of commodities are higher," explained Kevin Kleinjan, the district's planning manager. "We knew it (cost) would go up but didn't know how much."

Some items were dropped and the site improvement package modified, with V3 Construction as the low bidder. The recreational facilities package, including two new shelters, was withdrawn to be rebid later when additional funding can be secured.

Improving public access and recreation opportunities that are ADA-compliant, properly sized and can accommodate future needs is a chief goal of the Lakewood master plan. Consolidating uses in a smaller footprint and reducing operating costs also are goals.

"I'm happy to see work starting after what has seemed like an eternity from the Discovery Museum moving and Civil War Days being canceled," said forest Commissioner Adam Schlick, whose district includes Lakewood.

Though disappointed at the higher-than-expected bids, Schlick said he is confident everything promised in the master plan will be built, even if it akes longer than he and others would like.

The upcoming work won't affect the north and east sides of Banana Lake, so those walking in from the perimeter or using the Millennium Trail can fish those portions. The many ponds and lakes outside the core area also will remain open.

The Lakewood Forest Preserve Phase 1 revised plan. Courtesy Lake County Forest Preserve District
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