Preckwinkle: Forest preserves will stay open, if visitors follow guidelines
Cook County intends to keep most of its forest preserves open during the state's stay-at-home order, but that could change quickly if visitors don't abide by safe distancing and other public health guidelines, County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said Sunday.
The majority of the county's 70,000 acres of preserves remain accessible, though all public buildings, restrooms, visitor centers and campgrounds are closed. All programming and permitted events have been canceled through May 11, and the forest preserve district's five nature centers have been temporarily shuttered, officials said.
Preckwinkle said forest preserve staff and police are keeping a close eye on the preserves to make sure people aren't gathering in groups.
"If and when we see that a specific location is no longer tenable due to the behavior of visitors, we will add it to the list of facilities that are shut down," she said.
As of Sunday, the county had 2,613 confirmed COVID-19 infections, Preckwinkle said. While she and other county officials said the preserves are a needed outlet for residents largely stuck indoors during the pandemic, they must not contribute to making the situation worse.
"We want to keep as many of our woods, lakes and trains open as possible," General Superintendent Arnold Randall said. "To keep our preserves open, we must ensure that they are not pathways for spreading the virus."
Forest preserve police have been instructed to respond where overcrowding is reported, and to disperse crowds violating the social-distancing order, he added. Along with their regular patrols, officers are adding more alternative patrols to increase their presence on the trails and in the preserves.
Officials are asking that anyone who sees a potential problem in a preserve to call the nonemergency public safety number at (708) 771-1000.