Public access planned for long-hidden Ethel's Woods Forest Preserve

  • Work on public access to Ethel's Woods Forest Preserve near Antioch will be underway in coming weeks. The work includes construction of an entrance drive, 1.5 miles of crushed stone trail and two scenic overlooks.

    Work on public access to Ethel's Woods Forest Preserve near Antioch will be underway in coming weeks. The work includes construction of an entrance drive, 1.5 miles of crushed stone trail and two scenic overlooks. Courtesy of Lake County Forest Preserve District

  • Public access is being planned to Ethel's Woods Forest Preserve on Route 45 near Antioch, where visitors eventually will be able to see a restored North Mill Creek.

      Public access is being planned to Ethel's Woods Forest Preserve on Route 45 near Antioch, where visitors eventually will be able to see a restored North Mill Creek. Mick Zawislak | Staff Photographer, 2017

  • The master plan for Ethel's Woods Forest Preserve near Antioch includes public access, trails, overlooks and an eventual connection beneath Route 45 to the neighboring Raven Glen Forest Preserve.

    The master plan for Ethel's Woods Forest Preserve near Antioch includes public access, trails, overlooks and an eventual connection beneath Route 45 to the neighboring Raven Glen Forest Preserve. Courtesy Lake County Forest Preserve

 
 
Posted2/28/2018 5:20 AM

Work to provide public access to a panoramic but long hidden landscape near Antioch named after the founder of the Lake County Forest Preserve District is set to start next month.

In recent years, much has been going on behind the scenes at Ethel's Woods Forest Preserve, east of Route 45 and south of Route 173. The changes are occurring beyond a distant tree line and out of sight of the general public, which hasn't been permitted on the property since it was purchased for $13.2 million in 2001.

 

Although a public entrance is still a year or more away, forest officials sense the excitement about the 500-acre property named for Ethel Untermyer, who directed a 1958 referendum campaign to create the forest preserve district.

"I think Ethel would be pleased to see us continue to realize her vision of protecting large natural spaces and making them accessible to the people of Lake County," forest board President Ann Maine said in an announcement regarding the work.

It became official Feb. 13 when the forest board approved a $824,522 contract with Campanella & Sons Inc., of Wadsworth to build an entrance drive from Miller Road leading to a 25-car parking lot.

The project, set to start in coming weeks, also includes: a prefab restroom building; about 1.5 miles of crushed stone trail; and two scenic overlooks providing a view of man-made Rasmussen Lake's transformation back to the original meandering North Mill Creek.

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Public access was required as part of the Open Lands Trust grant the district received in 2002 toward the purchase of Ethel's Woods. But what the public will see from the overlooks is a separate project to restore a long lost landscape that includes 170 acres of century-old bur and white oak, shagbark hickory and black walnut trees.

North Mill Creek, which originally flowed through the property, was dammed about 60 years ago to create the 53-acre Rasmussen Lake. By the time it was acquired by the forest district, the banks of Rasmussen were extremely eroded. Rasmussen ranked next to last in water quality among 162 county lakes.

Deemed too expensive to fix, district officials opted to drain the lake and restore the original stream. A $1 million federal grant is helping to defray costs of the estimated $6.1 million project that has been underway since June 2014.

So far, a dam at the north end of the lake and a concrete spillway in the earthen dam on the south side have been removed. A bypass channel was built to allow water to flow through while the channel is being restored, said Leslie Berns, the district's landscape ecology manager.

"It's amazing what they've done back there. It's absolutely a breathtaking piece of property," said forest Commissioner Linda Pedersen, whose district includes Ethel's Woods.

Future plans include a tunnel beneath Route 45 to link Ethel's Woods with Raven Glen.

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