At last, a master plan for Lakewood Forest Preserve?
The future look of the Lakewood Forest Preserve near Wauconda is coming into focus with the pending approval of the first master plan for the preserve since its creation more than 50 years ago.
Planned changes at Lake County's largest forest preserve are intended to improve accessibility, consolidate uses in a smaller area and take other steps to downsize and reduce operation and maintenance costs.
The plan, a blend of two alternatives, calls for $5.1 million in public improvements.
A forest preserve team from six different departments began a detailed study of the facilities and conditions at Lakewood nearly three years ago. The process included an open house and public comment period that drew more than 350 observations.
"The important thing is we did hear and listen to the comments and did respond to those," said Randy Seebach, director of planning and land preservation for the forest preserve district.
Among the changes: Lakewood would have six access points instead of 10; 461 parking stalls instead of 805; 14,759 square feet of buildings rather than 46,540 square feet; 17.6 acres of lawn rather than 40 acres; and 1,000 more acres of proposed reforestation.
Three shelters and a group camping area would be removed, but new shelters, including a three-season structure overlooking Taylor Lake, would be built. An accessible asphalt loop trail is planned, as are connections to a proposed Wauconda bike path and a 1.6-mile trail from Milton Road to Lakewood's core area.
Forest preserve commissioners were briefed Monday, and the master plan for public improvements and habitat restoration was recommended for approval. An official vote by the full board is expected Jan. 14.
A big-picture plan for the preserve that is now a sprawling expansive bisected by two main roads -- Route 176 and Fairfield Road -- has been a long time coming.
"We've been trying to do a master plan for 15 years or more -- maybe 20," Seebach said.
In 1968, the then-fledgling district bought the 1,020-acre Lakewood Farms, which operated from 1937 to 1965. As a result of 51 land transactions since, Lakewood has grown to 2,835 acres.
The preserve has an abundance of natural features, trails and activities. But it expanded without a coordinated approach.
"It really became a model of inefficiency because of that," according to Seebach.
Efforts to begin a master plan process were stalled about 15 years ago because of a lack of direction regarding 16 former dairy farm buildings and the presence since the mid-1970s of what then was known as the Lake County Discovery Museum.
The slate for changes was cleared with board direction to demolish all buildings but the main dairy barn and silos, and the museum's move to district's headquarters in Libertyville.
Pending board approval, engineering on the changes proposed by the plan will begin shortly, but construction is not anticipated to begin until next year. The work would take 18 months.