‘So much time and work and imagination’: Improvements at Lake County’s largest forest preserve taking shape

Work to transform the core of Lake County’s largest forest preserve will accelerate with the pending completion of a net-zero maintenance facility, a key element in a nearly $10 million investment by the Lake County Forest Preserve District.

A parking lot on Ivanhoe Road just west of Fairfield Road at Lakewood Forest Preserve east of Wauconda will close starting Wednesday to allow various features of the master plan to proceed.

Located in the southwest part of the county, Lakewood spans 2,835 acres. A comprehensive master plan approved in early 2020 outlined changes to improve public access and reduce operating costs.

The plan focuses on the area south of Route 176 and west of Fairfield Road, part of the original Lakewood Farms purchase in 1968 and the heart of the preserve.

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Site preparation including building demolition has been underway for some time. Construction of the maintenance facility and other work began last June.

Most of the core has been open to some degree for public use, but with grading and other work picking up it was a good time for a public reminder, said Kevin Kleinjan, director of planning.

Forest commissioners were briefed on the progress and the district’s webpage has been updated.

“I don’t think most people have any idea what goes into transforming this forest preserve,” Commissioner Marah Altenberg said after one of the updates. “It is so much time and work and imagination.”

Lakewood improvements involve three separate but related aspects: net-zero maintenance facility; new and rebuilt interior roads, parking lots and toilets for circulation and accessibility; and a nature play area offering varied experiences.

The second category includes a new, paved 1.6-mile accessible, looped trail connecting to the regional Millennium Trail traversing woodlands, prairies, wetlands and circling Taylor Lake, according to the district.

Portions of the Millennium Trail will be rebuilt, but it will remain open as much as possible with a grass detour when necessary.

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

The trail also will provide access to a floating fishing pier, overlooks and an open area for fishing, wildlife viewing and reflection, according to Kleinjan.

An accessible floating pier and fishing nodes on Taylor Lake have been installed, but two new parking lots, upgrades to Shelter E and more are to come.

Reconstruction and partial realignment of the main Lakewood entrance off Route 176 and interior roads are pending.

New electric service, wells, water line and septic systems will replace undersized, outdated and failing facilities, improving energy efficiency and reducing maintenance costs, according to the district.

“We’ve been focusing on demolitions and site prep waiting for the new maintenance facility to come online so we can proceed with the interior work,” Kleinjan said.

The maintenance facility, which will produce enough solar to power itself should be substantially complete by the end of May with employees moving in shortly after.

Contracts for the nature play area are expected to be approved in August with work continuing into next spring.

Kleinjan said site work is under contract for $5.1 million and is on schedule and budget. The value of the maintenance facility contracts was about $4.8 million for an overall investment of about $9.9 million.

Future but unfunded plans include an all-season pavilion on Taylor Lake, an open-air shelter, parking lot and sidewalks to connect them.

New roads, trails, parking lots, a children’s nature play area and net-zero maintenance facility are among the transformative changes underway at Lakewood Forest Preserve near Wauconda. At 2,835 acres, Lakewood is the largest in the Lake County forest preserve system. Courtesy of Lake County Forest Preserves
A net-zero maintenance facility is part of an ongoing transformation at Lakewood Forest Preserve, the largest in Lake County at 2,835 acres. The facility is designed to produce enough solar energy to power itself. Courtesy of Lake County Forest Preserves
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