Suburban forest preserves keep monitoring, will stay open 'as long as people behave'
As social distancing concerns grow with the rising temperatures this spring, suburban forest preserve officials say they continue to monitor the size of crowds at their facilities but intend to keep most open to the public.
That could change quickly depending on public behavior.
"We need to really watch it, especially as the weather warms," said Ty Kovach, executive director of the Lake County Forest Preserves.
-"As long as people behave, we're going to try and continue to keep it open for them."
Despite social media initiatives, ample signage and rangers walking the grounds, there have been cases where crowds needed to be dispersed at preserves. In some instances -- such as with Rocky Glen Waterfall near Lemont and the Swallow Cliff Stairs near Palos Hills -- sites were closed because of overcrowding.
"We may close more sites," said Carl Vogel, director of communications for the Cook County Forest Preserve. "That's absolutely a possibility. But we want people to follow the guidelines and help us keep the forest preserves open."
Several measures already have been taken to curb crowd sizes. Picnic tables and benches have been removed, and restrooms and playgrounds have been closed.
Dog parks have been closed, trout seasons have been canceled and areas shuttered for winter have remained that way in the spring. It's a fluid situation for forest preserve staff preparing for a bigger challenge as the weather improves in the coming weeks.
"We haven't made any adjustments since the last announcement we made last week but we'll do that as needed," said Tony Martinez, director of communications for the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County.
"We've been proactive with the messaging and the communications, so we haven't experienced too many problems. The majority of people are following the guidelines."
Kovach stressed further action will be taken by the Lake County staff to encourage social distancing in its preserves.
Trail signs will be added to promote single-file walking. On paths that are often 10 feet wide, that will allow plenty of room for people to safely pass each other.
"We're aware that there are a few people who have expressed concerns," Kovach said. "If we get a call that there's an overcrowded parking lot or something going on, we follow up on every one of those. We're out there and we're watching what's going on.
"I think we've proven we're not afraid to shut down an individual preserve," he added. "It was an overcrowded situation and people together in groups, so we closed down the dog parks. And we've gotten a lot of pushback on that but we're holding firm on it."
If community members in Lake County are concerned about crowds they see in a forest preserve, they are encouraged to call (847) 549-5200. In Cook County the number to call is (708) 771-1000.
The DuPage County number is (630) 933-7200, and the Kane County number is (630) 232-5980.
"We want to hear from visitors when they see something," Vogel said.
"I have heard from our police that most people say they get it, and in some cases they say thanks because they weren't aware."