Proposed state budget includes $1 million for Route 53 corridor greenway master plan in Lake County

Supporters of creating a greenway out of land acquired for the defunct Route 53 extension in Lake County are celebrating a $1 million allocation for the project in Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s state budget proposal Wednesday.

Greenway advocates said funding to develop a master plan for the 12-mile corridor from Long Grove north to Grayslake represented a landmark moment.

Funding was included in the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ recommended budget but there was no mention of what that would entail.

Advocates of the decision to develop a master plan for “a vital band of open space” praised Pritzker, county, local and grassroots leaders for “critical support” in advancing the idea to transform the property into a state park or greenway.

“This is such exciting news for the people who have worked on this for years and for those that are going to be working on it in the future,” said former state Sen. Melinda Bush, who co-chaired a 19-member state task force of local and regional officials that recommended the greenway concept in late 2022. “It is a move in the right direction.”

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The Lake County Board followed in early 2023 with a resolution supporting a greenway. Chair Sandy Hart said the corridor provides critical support for biodiversity in a county with more endangered species than any other in Illinois. That opinion was echoed by several others.

“A greenway will forever protect one of the most scenic landscapes in Lake County and unleash its value as an accessible conservation area that residents can enjoy, all while spurring economic development,” said Chris Kessler, director of policy at Openlands, a regional conservation group.

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State Rep. Dan Didech, a Democrat from Buffalo Grove, said he was pleased the proposed budget included funding for a master plan.

“If developed prudently, it has the potential to be a local recreation landmark and an economic driver for Lake County,” he said.

The corridor includes meadows, creeks and ponds, is sanctuary for wildlife and presents a rare opportunity to ensure cleaner air and water and protect natural habitats and wildlife, supporters said in a joint statement.

“For decades, the communities of Lake County have fought to protect this regionally significant treasure,” said Barbara Klipp, executive director of the Midwest Sustainability Group.

“We look forward to working together with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the local communities to protect the fragile ecosystems, scenic landscapes and natural resources within this greenway and to create a public amenity for all to enjoy while protecting our communities and enhancing our local economy,” she added.

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Long Grove Village President Bill Jacob said the recommended funding is a landmark moment for the town as residents for decades fought to preserve the landscape. The commitment of Pritzker and other leaders honors that legacy and puts Long Grove and its neighbors in a position to “maximize the value of our natural heritage,” he added.

Extending Route 53 from Lake-Cook Road into central Lake County had been a polarizing topic for more than 50 years. Disagreements over the cost and size of the road, its perceived benefit and potential environmental damage derailed the project in 2019, when the Illinois tollway dropped its sponsorship citing a lack of consensus.

Over time, the Illinois Department of Transportation purchased about 1,100 acres for the proposed Route 53 extension.

Sixteen of the 19 task force members supported the overall greenway plan. Mundelein disapproved, and IDOT and Visit Lake County abstained.

• Daily Herald staff writer Marni Pyke contributed to this report.

A 1,100-acre corridor of land acquired by IDOT to extend Route 53 now may become a greenway. This drone photograph shows a view looking north of Route 176. Daily Herald file
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