Historic preservation at issue in DuPage forest race
Republican candidates for a DuPage Forest Preserve District seat representing parts of Naperville, Aurora, Lisle and Warrenville know there's plenty of history to preserve in the county along with open space and natural lands.
Where opponents Mary Lou Wehrli and Carl Schultz differ is on how best to make decisions about historical buildings and whether maintaining them should be a priority.
Wehrli, a 62-year-old Naperville businesswoman, says developing a plan to maintain historic structures such as the Greene Barn in Greene Valley Forest Preserve and the Mayslake Peabody Estate at Mayslake Forest Preserve is a high priority.
"The culture of this county and the value of its heritage has always been important," Wehrli said.
Schultz, a 58-year-old Aurora horticulturist, says historic building decisions come down to two factors: working with other commissioners to find solutions together and seeking public support from neighbors who want to see cultural elements preserved.
"The main point of the forest preserve is the natural resources," he said. "There are some cultural things that we would want to save."
Wehrli said the forest preserve district is developing an asset management plan for how historic structures, properties and equipment should be maintained. She said the board could choose a consultant as early as this month to create the plan. The document then could be finished by the end of this year, when commissioners could use it to make maintenance decisions.
"All of these assets -- cultural and practical -- are going to be reviewed and given some prioritization based on what condition are they in, what would it take to make them usable and also what's the cultural value and what is the external support," Wehrli said. "These features on the landscape are getting the attention they finally deserve with a full holistic look countywide."
But forest preserve officials said creating an asset management plan is proceeding in a "deliberate" manner because finding resources to care for bridges, roads, buildings and archaeological features could require some shifts in staffing.
"We are working toward an optimal program that combines use of outside resources, contracted efforts and staff to best care for our amenities and features," Executive Director Michael Hullihan said in a statement. "During the plan's development phase, it became apparent that some personnel resources required adjustment. Because we are dealing with our most important asset, our people, we are therefore being deliberate about the plan's rollout."
Meanwhile, Schultz said success can be found for maintaining historic sites when interested residents step up. He said he helped create Friends of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, the district's nonprofit fundraising arm, and similar advocacy groups could step in if they want to save a certain structure.
"Some of it has to do with the community taking ownership," Schultz said.
Schultz was a forest preserve commissioner in the District 5 seat now held by Wehrli for 10 years, but he lost to her in the 2012 election.
Now he's seeking to return to the seat, first by aiming for the Republican party's nomination in the March 15 primary. The primary winner could be unopposed in the Nov. 8 general election because no Democrat has filed.