Five forest preserve areas in DuPage County are nominated as Illinois State Nature Preserves, which could give them an extra layer of ecological protection. But some forest preserve commissioners worry this could hinder local control of the lands.
Now the district wants residents to share feedback on the issue at 9 a.m. Tuesday during its weekly commission meeting.
"Some feel we're giving up control, and that absolutely is not the case," said Erik Neidy, the district's manager of natural resources. Commissioners and district staff members already work together to ensure areas are protected. "And if something arises with someone wanting to build a school, an easement, a pipeline or all these things the commissioners get slapped with," he said, "the state has the authority to take care of it for us. They're just there to help us, if need be, at a higher level."
Collectively, the preserves are home to endangered, threatened and rare species, such as the blue-spotted salamander, Blanding's turtle or the federally threatened eastern prairie fringed orchid.
Areas being considered for Illinois Nature Preserve status are a buffer on the southeast side of West Chicago Prairie; the West Grove of Meacham Grove Forest Preserve near Bloomingdale; Prairie Forest Preserve near Addison and a buffer area; Des Plaines Riverway Forest Preserve near Burr Ridge; and Brewster Creek Marsh at Pratt's Wayne Woods near Wayne.
The state already has approved the preserves' status, with a dedication scheduled for May 8. But if the public and commission oppose the idea, it could be postponed until September, Neidy said.
Commissioner Linda Painter said she wants residents to have a better understanding of any rules that might change at the preserves, such as more restricted use of trails.
"This status is a very permanent thing," Painter said, adding that she's more comfortable dedicating lesser-used preserves, but questions popular sites like Meacham Grove.
"I'm not opposed to it, but I think there are some other preserves that are better suited to be on the list," Painter said. "And residents should be notified and made aware of the pros and cons."
If these five areas became Illinois Nature Preserves, the DuPage Forest Preserve would continue to own, manage and maintain them as it always has. But dogs, horses and bicycles would not be allowed within the nature preserve boundaries. In addition, people who destroy natural resources or violate other regulations would be subject to state penalties.
There are some exceptions, though. For example, the forest preserve would reserve the right to allow visitors to continue using the trail at Meacham Grove with leashed pets, horses and bicycles.
The district already manages two Illinois Nature Preserves: Truitt-Hoff Nature Preserve at West Chicago Prairie and Churchill Prairie Nature Preserve at Churchill Woods. Together, these areas comprise about 354 acres, or about 1.5 percent of the district's holdings.
Neidy said the district has experienced no problems at Truitt-Hoff and Churchill Prairie. He said he also spoke with officials at the Lake, McHenry and Cook county forest preserves, who also manage Illinois Nature Preserves, about their experiences.
"I heard not a single negative comment, only the fact that it benefited them since they've been dedicated," he said.
He added that nondestructive changes to the preserves can be made if they have "the best interest of natural resources at hand." This can include grass trails, signs or even kiosks.
Residents who want to share feedback may speak during the public comments segment of the DuPage County Forest Preserve District commission meeting at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the district headquarters, 3S580 Naperville Road, Wheaton.
For details, call (630) 933-7200 or visit dupageforest.org.