Compromise sought for bird-lover access to Almond Marsh
The suggested demolition of an old office building, entrance road and three parking lots at Almond Marsh Forest Preserve near Grayslake likely will proceed, but a compromise is possible for disappointed birders who host "Welcome Back Herons" and other educational programs there.
Lake County Audubon Society volunteers would like periodic access to the preserve for their activities and programs, but what happens will be dictated by cost. The removal of the 5,585-square-foot building and more than an acre of pavement is expected to save $11,000 in annual operating costs and $137,000 in future pavement replacement.
"These are the hard decisions we have to make," said Ty Kovach, executive director of the Lake County Forest Preserve District. He noted the district's revenue has shrunk 20 percent the last decade because of decreasing property values.
"It's a hard decision, I know, but that's how we've been able to restore that 20 percent (revenue) loss," he told members of the forest board's operations committee, which discussed the matter Monday.
Notable for its great blue heron rookery and distinct landscape of dead trees rising from the marsh facing busy Route 120, the preserve has no trails, facilities or public parking, and the entry gate off Almond Road is closed.
Audubon Society volunteers have worked at the preserve for more than a decade and, with the district, host a Rookery Watch program and other events Saturdays from April to July, or about 12 to 14 days a year. The group has built about a dozen artificial nesting platforms during the years and the rookery is considered a "key educational issue," according to Lake County Audubon.
"It really has helped to educate the public and created great value," said Chris Geiselhart, past president of Lake County Audubon.
Volunteer stewardship to remove invasive species and improve wildlife habitat also has been ongoing.
"We'll see," said Don Wilson, a longtime volunteer steward. "All we're really asking for is a compromise."
The entrance road winds about a half mile to the district's former planning office, a one-time house in the woods with a view through large windows.
The building subsequently was leased to Conserve Lake County, but that group merged with the regional Openlands organization and the building has been empty since last July.
Forest district committees on three occasions in late 2015 and early 2016 considered what to do with the facility when the license agreement expired. The suggestion is to remove the building, road and parking lots to "address public safety concerns, eliminate unneeded infrastructure and environmental impacts and reduce operational costs," according to information provided to committee members.
Suggestions included providing a gravel lot, but that, too, has costs. As proposed, the driveway apron and swing gate off Almond Road would remain to allow access for future resource management activities.
"I hate to see something like this cut off if there's any way to compromise," said forest Commissioner Steve Carlson. The forest district staff was directed to explore options.
"Let's get rid of the asphalt but let's see if we can come up with some kind of alternative," said Craig Taylor, committee chairman.