Handing over a mile of lakeshore: Openlands group giving its preserve by Fort Sheridan to county

The Lake County Forest Preserve District is set to become the new owner and caretaker of a prime natural property along Lake Michigan in Highland Park.

In a pending transaction, the 77-acre Openlands Lakeshore Preserve, which features wooded ravines, bluffs and a mile of shoreline, will be transferred at no cost to the forest preserve district.

“It's a gift,” forest preserve Executive Director Ty Kovach said.

Openlands also will transfer about $1.3 million to the Preservation Foundation, the district's charitable partner, to care for the property in perpetuity.

The forest district's planning committee Monday recommended accepting the transfer. The full board will vote June 14.

If approved, the property will become part of the 250-acre Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve to the north. The properties connect along the Lake Michigan shoreline, and both are part of the former Fort Sheridan Army base that opened in 1889 and operated for about a century.

“We are thrilled to add this additional parcel, which will result in nearly two miles of contiguous, publicly accessible shoreline at Fort Sheridan,” Kovach said in announcing the pending deal.

Openlands, a regional nonprofit conservation organization, assumed management of the site in phases, in 2007 and 2010. Besides restoring the property to its native habitat, the organization created accessible trails and installed bridges and staircases that allow visitors to reach ravines, bluffs and a portion of the beach.

A designated Illinois Nature Preserve, the property includes three lakefront ravines, a topographic feature rarely found beyond the North Shore, and one of the few publicly accessible ravine and blufftop ecosystems in the Chicago area.

It is home to at least six threatened and endangered plant species, and it's a twice-a-year stop for thousands of migrating birds, as well as monarchs and dragonflies, according to Openlands.

The site was closed in April 2021 due to safety concerns after a grenade and two flares — remnants of the site's use as an Army base — were found. That situation is being addressed and the forest preserve district will conduct an analysis with hopes to reopen in summer.

Once approved, the forest preserve district will have 60 days for due diligence, followed by 10 more days before closing the sale.

“We don't anticipate (finding) anything we don't already know,” said Rebekah Snyder, director of community engagement and partnerships for the foundation.

A master plan to incorporate the new property as a “seamless visitor experience” is expected in coming years.

Openlands has a track record of acquiring critical parcels and transferring them at the right time to qualified landowners, according to Jerry Adelmann, president and CEO.

“We focus on establishing trusted relationships within communities, protecting vital ecosystems and creating access to nature for all,” he said in an announcement of the deal.

What you'll find at reopened Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve

Cemetery expansion still wanted Forest preserve staff members will continue talks with the VA about Fort Sheridan

The 77-acre Openlands Lakeshore Preserve in Highland Park includes a mile of Lake Michigan frontage. Under a pending agreement, the property known for its bluff and ravines will be transferred to the Lake County Forest Preserve District. Courtesy of Openlands   
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