'Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity': Lake board supports greenway for Route 53 corridor

The Lake County Board on Tuesday overwhelmingly endorsed a plan to preserve land set aside for the defunct extension of Route 53 as an open space corridor, a move some described as the opportunity of a lifetime.

A resolution approved 17-0, with two abstentions, supports the recommendation a state task force made in December calling for property stretching from Long Grove to Grayslake to be transferred from the Illinois Department of Transportation to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

County officials also want a working group to be developed to determine how the 1,100-acre corridor can be established as a state park, trail or "open space for conservation purposes," and identify funding options to maintain it.

Supporters are urging Gov. J.B. Pritzker to authorize the transfer and include funding in the upcoming state budget to manage the property.

"It's going to be very important for our board to have a voice with our legislators in Springfield to move this project along," said Marah Altenberg, a county board member from Buffalo Grove and one of three on the Route 53 task force.

"We continue to have concerns about IDNR's capacity to manage this property without an identified funding source, so that's something that still needs to be worked out," said Jayette Bolinski, communications manager for the agency,

IDOT spokeswoman Maria Castaneda said the agency looks forward to working with the IDNR and local partners to determine next steps.

The Illinois Route 53 Land Expansion Alternative Use Task Force spent more than a year discussing options for the property, which was acquired over half a century as the proposed Route 53 extension was debated.

The nearly unanimous recommendation was a consensus among communities, state and local government agencies, environmental groups, and other stakeholders.

"When it becomes a reality, the Route 53 Greenway proposal will be nothing less than a triumph for all of Lake County," county board member John Wasik of Grayslake said after the vote.

Wasik, who also served on the Route 53 task force, said the greenway would connect communities and existing trails, and benefit current and future residents by storing carbon, stormwater and heat.

"This is climate action and hope on a hyperlocal level and a big win for metropolitan ecology," he said.

Chris Kessler, a Lake County resident and director of policy at Openlands, an organization founded in 1963 to protect natural and open spaces in northeastern Illinois, was among the speakers who lauded the resolution in advance of the vote.

"Before you today is a once in a lifetime opportunity to show support for an investment in our collective futures and build upon the work you have done and continue to do to make Lake County a great place to live," he said.

Barbara Klipp, representing the Green Corridor Coalition of environmental groups and individuals, also spoke in support of the measure.

"This corridor represents one of the most scenic landscapes remaining in Lake County, and we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fully unleash its value as an iconic nature trail and conservation area, where residents of our communities can treasure the atmosphere that makes central Lake County such an appealing place to live," she said.

Such an amenity would be an attraction for business investment, as top talent chooses to locate near access to open space, she said.

Board members J. Kevin Hunter of Ingleside and Adam Schlick of Wauconda abstained from Tuesday's vote.

Schlick said that while he is not opposed to preserving a large part or all the land, he didn't want to support something that may not be feasible, given lingering questions among the state agencies.

Hunter said municipalities or other governments may not be able to get land if needed for easements or other purposes, and is concerned about the unintended consequences of allowing open land groups to control the outcome of the property.

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