Editorial: Our debt to those who set aside forest preserves
For the past several months, we have been reminded each day of the terrible toll of the pandemic.
If there is even the tiniest glimmer of a silver lining, it sparks from Americans rediscovering simple pleasures, suburbanites reveling in the beauty of nature and Illinoisans renewing our appreciation for our unique system of forest preserves -- and those local leaders who had the foresight to establish them.
Before the pandemic, many of us took our forest preserves for granted. Perhaps it had been years since we visited the ones closest to our homes. Perhaps we never even considered the draws of those more than 20 minutes away.
But our incredible suburban forest preserves were there for us during the pandemic, providing colorful shows of wildflowers when more traditional entertainment venues were shuttered and a place to run, walk or bike while health clubs were closed.
Even as movie theaters and malls returned, our forest preserves continued to be an important outing for many.
They allowed for social distancing. They nurtured a sense of calm. And they were free.
They also offered an incredible natural diversity for those whose travel plans had been dashed. Here in the suburbs, forest preserve trails wind through woods, wetlands and open prairie. They offer glimpses of birds you don't normally see in your yard as well as turtles, frogs, deer and so much more.
And we owe all that to past leaders who thought to preserve the land, even as its value soared.
In Cook County, the idea for forest preserves dates back to 1904, when landscape architect Jens Jensen and architect Daniel Perkins introduced a plan for a system of regional forest sites. The district acquired its first forest preserve -- suburban Deer Grove -- in 1916.
DuPage County's preservation efforts date back more than a century as well, while the Kane County Forest Preserve District was created in 1925.
Lake County's district was created in 1958. It was inspired by Ethel Untermyer, a former Chicagoan who moved to Lake County and was surprised to find out that her new home had no forest preserves while Cook County had 47,000 acres protected. Now, Lake County protects almost 31,000 acres of land.
With fall colors expected to peak this week, October is a perfect time to visit suburban forest preserves.
It's also a good time to remember visionaries such as Jensen, Perkins and Untermyer for preserving these spots for today's families to enjoy -- and to ask that future leaders do the same.