DuPage forest Dist. 5 candidates debate accomplishments
The Republican primary for the District 5 seat on the DuPage Forest Preserve Commission is shaping up to be a she-said, he-said race.
Incumbent Mary Lou Wehrli of Naperville and challenger Carl Schultz of Aurora disagree on who has accomplished what during their different periods of service to the forest preserve.
The rivals are seeking the Republican nomination in the March 15 primary to represent a district that covers all or parts of Aurora, Lisle, Naperville and Warrenville.
Wehrli and Schultz both are touting their role in projects in and around the district they aim to represent, including work to stabilize the barn at Greene Valley Forest Preserve near Naperville, a connection to fill a trail gap between Jefferson and Ogden avenues in Naperville and an agreement to add land to Goodrich Woods near Naperville.
Forest preserve President Joseph Cantore and former President D. "Dewey" Pierotti said these projects were long-term initiatives that took years in the making.
Schultz, a 58-year-old horticulturist from Aurora, held the District 5 seat from 2002 to 2012. Wehrli, a 62-year-old Naperville resident who works in property management and sales, beat him in the 2012 election and has held the seat the past four years.
Greene Farm Barn
The barn at Greene Valley isn't accessible to the public, but it can be seen by bike trail users near the intersection of Greene and Hobson roads.
Schultz says he led a push to stabilize it by replacing rotting wood with a new steel foundation in a $1.4 million project completed in 2012.
Schultz said he helped complete the project a year earlier than expected and bring it in under budget so remaining funds could be set aside for future work toward opening the barn.
He said a second phase of life-safety and accessibility improvements has not been made, so visitors cannot access the barn.
"I guess there has not been a champion for that," he said.
Schultz said the value of the barn lies in its construction, which took place in three phases showing wooden building techniques used in the early 1800s, during the Civil War era and more recently.
"As you walk through the barn, it's actually the history of barn making," Schultz said.
Wehrli said her support for Greene Farm Barn dates to the early 1980s when she and her husband organized "Sunday in the Country" days with folk singers, fruit tree growers and costumed interpreters.
"We were trying to bring a visible example of what this farmstead could be," she said.
Wehrli said the barn could become more than a photo opp if the preserve dedicates funding to it during an upcoming asset management planning process. She hopes to engage an advocacy group to create a master plan for the structure.
On Sept. 27, 2011, the forest preserve, the city of Naperville and the Naperville Park District hosted a groundbreaking for a connection on the West Branch Riverway Trail between Ogden and Jefferson avenues. Construction was completed in 2012 on the 0.9-mile link that connects Wil-O-Way Commons Park to McDowell Grove Forest Preserve and the rest of the 23-mile West Branch Regional Trail.
Both Schultz and Wehrli say they were instrumental in completing the connection, which included a new railroad underpass and a new underpass at Ogden.
Schultz said he secured an easement to allow trail construction to take place.
"I negotiated with the Burlington Northern the trail access, which was the big hang-up for the trail going from Jefferson to Ogden and then saw that through to construction," he said.
Wehrli said the project had "died for lack of a champion," but she "resurrected" it by working with the railroad and affected government entities.
"I got the mayor of Naperville, the president of the park district and the president of the forest preserve board together to actually recognize as leaders that this was a good idea," Wehrli said.
Last June, the forest preserve added 1.7 acres to the 13.4-acre Goodrich Woods preserve near Naperville by buying the land from Naperville Unit District 203. The new property surrounds a private cooperative preschool called Hobson School, which rents land for its building from the public school district.
Both District 5 candidates say they helped with the acquisition process.
Schultz said he set aside money to expand the preserve when he was on the commission until 2012. The purchase cost $630,000.
Wehrli described the acquisition as a "tangled legal mess," but said she helped complete it to add acres of oaks to the preserve. Forest preserve President Cantore said the purchase clarified the boundary between school property and the preserve itself as it added to the district's total protected lands.