Busse Woods part of weekend parking lot closure ordered by county
Visitors not following social distancing guidelines and other problems have led to the closure of parking lots at six Cook County forest preserves on weekends, including mammoth Busse Woods bordering Elk Grove Village.
Elsewhere, parking policies vary, with almost no restriction in Kane and Lake counties, some limitations in DuPage and a total parking ban in Will that will end May 1.
Cook County forest preserve officials said that while visitors still can enter the properties, the parking shutdown will begin Saturday. The parking lot closures then will be every Friday, Saturday and Sunday through at least May 30.
General Superintendent Arnold Randall said lack of social distancing, cookouts with crowds and other problems have been found at Busse Woods and the other five preserves in Niles, Chicago and the Willow Springs area where the lots will be shuttered on the weekends in an effort to limit visitors and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
"We have seen that (inappropriate) behavior on just moderately warm days," Randall said during a news conference Friday.
Randall said forest preserve police will issue citations to anyone showing a willful disregard for public health and safety rules, including social distancing, large gatherings and using obviously closed restrooms. Potential fines from a citation reach $500.
Popularly known as Busse Woods, the 3,558-acre Ned Brown preserve adjacent to Elk Grove Village includes ancient upland forests and is home to one of the largest fishing and boating waters in Cook County. It also has about 13 miles of paved trail and an elk pasture. The parking lots had already been blocked off Friday morning.
Randall said the forest preserves have received an influx of new visitors, who may not know the rules or see them posted on signs since the state's stay-at-home order became effective last month. He said Busse Woods is one of Cook County's most-visited preserves.
In reaction to the lot closures, Elk Grove Mayor Craig Johnson ordered weekend "no parking" restrictions on some eight miles of nearby village residential streets, fearing overflow parking from forest preserve visitors. He raised safety concerns if drivers were to park in the village then cross busy Arlington Heights Road to get to Busse Woods.
"They're going to say, 'Come to the woods, just don't park in the parking lots.' In other words, 'Just park on Elk Grove Village side streets,' and that's not a good combination in our community," Johnson said.
Elsewhere in the suburbs, lots at forest preserves in Kane and Lake counties have remained open.
"We don't intend to close any parking lots at the forest preserves," said Laurie Metanchuk, director of community affairs for the Forest Preserve District of Kane County. The district is asking visitors to go to other preserves if a parking lot at a preserve is full.
Ty Kovach, executive director of the Lake County Forest Preserves, on Friday said the district's dog parks have been closed since March. But he said the rest of the district's parking lots remain. Kovach said the district is closely monitoring preserve use and would consider closing a parking lot, if needed.
Will County closed parking lots at all its preserves when the stay-home order took effect on March 21. But in a statement released Friday on its website, the Forest Preserve District of Will County said it will reopen preserve access area parking lots and boat launches on May 1 as a result of the governor modifying the stay-at-home order.
Meanwhile, the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County says it has no plans to close additional parking lots beyond what it announced earlier in the week.
On Monday, the district closed some lots at Fullersburg Woods in Oak Brook, Herrick Lake near Wheaton, McDowell Grove near Naperville, Spring Creek Reservoir near Bloomingdale, Waterfall Glen near Darien and Wood Dale Grove near Wood Dale.
The district already was prohibiting non-county residents from parking at Waterfall Glen, Fullersburg Woods, Blackwell near Warrenville, Herrick Lake and Hidden Lake near Downers Grove.
"We'll continue to stay vigilant and watch," spokesman Tony Martinez said Friday. "If we do need to make any adjustments, we will."
• Daily Herald staff writer Christopher Placek contributed to this report.