‘Really spectacular’: Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve on Lake Michigan to grow with acquisition

Lake County forest preserve holdings near Lake Michigan will increase with the pending acquisition of about 18 acres adjoining the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve at Fort Sheridan.

Forest commissioners Tuesday agreed to buy the U.S. Navy-owned property for $6 million. The forest preserve district last year was gifted the 71.5-acre Lakeshore Preserve from the Chicago-based Openlands regional conservation organization.

Handing over a mile of lakeshore: Openlands group giving its preserve by Fort Sheridan to county

Openlands Lakeshore Preserve, which reopened last fall, includes a mile of Lake Michigan shoreline and a landscape of bluffs and ravines. It’s to the south of Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve in Lake Forest, Highland Park and Highwood and connected by a strip of shoreline.

Openlands Lakeshore Preserve to reopen in time for Labor Day weekend

The new acquisition east of Patten Road consists of a bluff surrounded on three sides by the ravines of Openlands Lakeshore Preserve.

Forest preserve officials say there aren’t many properties like this available.

“It is really spectacular, really special,” said forest Commissioner Sandy Hart. “All of Lake County is so, so lucky to have this.”

Openlands had been pursuing the 18.2-acre property for several years. Forest preserve staff closed the deal after being gifted the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve, officials said.

Funds to buy the property will come from a $20 million bond issue approved by the district in March to acquire high-priority properties. Two already have been acquired for about $2.2 million as additions to Lakewood Forest Preserve near Wauconda.

The new property meets forest preserve goals of protecting wildlife habitat, preserving wetlands, prairies and forest, providing scenic vistas, protecting its holdings and adding to existing preserves.

The district has the money from the bond issue to buy the Fort Sheridan addition. However, future investments in the property likely will be given as examples to voters of what can be done if they agree to give the district authority via referendum in November to borrow $155 million.

“One of the line items would be restoration and funding a master plan to hopefully tie this into the rest of the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve,” said Ty Kovach, forest preserve executive director.

The staff-recommended referendum project list includes $1.5 million for that purpose, said Rebekah Snyder, director of community engagement and partnerships.

Commissioners in June authorized filing the $155 million referendum question with the Lake County Clerk’s Office. The staff recommendation is that $90 million be directed toward habitat restoration and dozens of projects, and about $65 million targeted for land preservation and acquisition.

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