What priorities drive DuPage forest candidates?
Mary Lou Wehrli says her top priority as she runs to retain her seat on the DuPage Forest Preserve Commission is to strike a balance between the natural world and our human influence.
Her opponent, Carl Schultz, says his top priority as he seeks to reclaim the seat he held from 2002 to 2012 is to give others the outdoor experiences he had as a child that shaped his career goal to become a horticulturist.
Wehrli and Schultz are on the ballot in the March 15 Republican primary. The winner could be unopposed in the Nov. 8 general election because no Democrat has filed for the seat, which represents parts of Aurora, Lisle, Naperville and Warrenville.
Wehrli, a 62-year-old Naperville businesswoman, said completing an asset management plan to spell out how land, historic buildings, equipment and infrastructure will be maintained is a key to achieving her top goal for the district, which manages 25,000 acres at 60 preserves.
"All of these assets are going to take a lot of money and our continued maintenance of our forest preserves as they do incrementally expand," Wehrli said.
Preserve users are seeking more "sophistication, maintenance and security," she said, and ongoing projects such as work to improve wayfinding signs will help provide those upgrades. But then, where is the balance between the organic and the man-made?
"To me, when you think of a fundamental focal point, that's critical," Wehrli said. "How do we marry nature and man?"
Schultz, a 58-year-old horticulturist of Aurora, said the district should observe its policy of retaining 90 percent of each preserve as true, undeveloped open space while constructing buildings or other improvements on only 10 percent of the sites.
"If we're going to maintain and stay true to that policy, you're not going to be able to just go into each preserve and make a bunch of new stuff because we would go over the 10 percent pretty easily," Schultz said.
He said his top priority is providing better services for the very young and older adults. This could require finding new revenue to do things such as transport seniors to preserves or create a "forest preserve on wheels."
The efforts would be worthwhile to disconnect technology-oriented residents from computerized devices and introduce them to the world of Schultz's childhood, when he was "always knee deep in water or weeds -- one or the other -- chasing frogs, snakes and that sort of thing."
"One of the things that they're finding as a solution is to get people out into nature and get them outdoors where they really can experience other parts of life," he said, "not this real narrow thing with a blue screen pointing at them all the time."
Throughout the campaign for the Republican nomination, Wehrli has cast herself as a "citizen advocate" for forest causes and painted Schultz as a political insider who wants back in the action.
Schultz has promoted his ability to understand natural issues as a horticulturist and his collaboration to work with other commissioners.