Changes ahead for Lake County's largest forest preserve
The largest forest preserve in Lake County is turning 50 and needs a reboot after years of wear and tear, its caretaker says.
What that means for the 2,835-acre Lakewood Forest Preserve near Wauconda will be coming into focus as Lake County Forest Preserve staff begin developing concepts and crafting a master plan.
For the past year, planners have been gathering data and assessing everything from miles of trails and roads, to the number of cars in the parking lots and costs of renovating buildings that date to the area's original use as the Lakewood Farms dairy in the 1930s.
Since its initial 1,000 acres was acquired by the forest preserve in 1968, Lakewood has grown to its current size over 52 separate land purchases.
Data collected so far shows it costs the district $1.33 million a year to operate Lakewood, with the largest amount, $432,110, for routine building maintenance and utilities.
"When you look at the numbers we're talking about, it's time to reevaluate and repurpose this preserve," said forest district Commissioner Carol Calabresa, who chairs the board's planning committee.
That likely will mean "right sizing" facilities like parking lots and demolishing all but one of the dairy-associated buildings to create a clearer canvas for future improvements.
The sprawling preserve has just over 33 miles of trails; nearly 42 acres of mowed turf; 43,211 square feet of maintained buildings; 25 acres of roads and parking lots; and nine separate entrances.
"We hired two architects and three engineers to help us with the assessment because it's so big," said Randy Seebach, director of planning and land preservation.
"You have a lot of inefficiencies. It's complicated, very, very complicated," he added.
The central core of the preserve and focus going forward is the former dairy farm south of Route 176 and west of Fairfield Road. Buildings there have been used for various purposes, including the former Lake County Discovery Museum, Teich postcard archive, and a district maintenance hub.
One exception is the dairy barn, which was built in the 1920s and remodeled in 1938 in a Dutch Colonial style. Full restoration would cost an estimated $885,000, which the district doesn't have. But the building has historical interest and potentially could attract a user willing to pay for the upgrade.
"At this point, we're recommending saving the barn and looking for opportunities to repurpose," Seebach said.
Two or three concept plans will be prepared and be presented to the committee in advance of a informational open house, likely this fall, for public review and comment.
"We're excited to get started," Seebach said. "It's a challenge but a fun challenge."