Openlands Lakeshore Preserve to reopen in time for Labor Day weekend
A mile of Lake Michigan shoreline fronting a scenic landscape with bluffs and ravines has been added to the Lake County Forest Preserves system and will be reopened to the public.
The transfer of the 72-acre Openlands Lakeshore Preserve to the forest preserve district at no cost has been months in the making. Forest preserve commissioners accepted Openlands' offer June 14 and have been in a due diligence period. The transaction became official Wednesday.
The property will be known as Openlands Lakeshore Preserve at the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve.
It was closed for public use 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 has been addressed, and the facility will be open for Labor Day weekend.
"It's a wonderful gift to the public," said Ty Kovach, the district's executive director. "We said we would make every effort to open it for Labor Day, and that's what we've delivered."
The forest preserve district has asked visitors come only during open hours from 6:30 a.m. to sunset daily and remember the entire site, including the shoreline, is closed at nights. Visitors also are encouraged to stay on trails to protect sensitive areas.
Openlands was founded in 1963 as a regional nonprofit conservation organization. It acquired the site near Highland Park in phases in 2007 and 2010.
That land now is part of the 250-acre Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve to the north. Both are part of the former Fort Sheridan base that the Army opened in 1889 and operated for about a century.
Openlands also donated about $1.35 million for conservation and habitat restoration. A long-term endowment will be created with the donation to support ongoing management of the site, which includes one of the few publicly accessible ravines and blufftop ecosystems in the area.
Besides a mile of Lake Michigan shoreline, the property features three restored ravines and blufftops, accessible trails with bridges, staircases, overlooks and art installations.
Kovach said the district plans to build on those investments. A public master planning process to incorporate the new property into Fort Sheridan is planned.
This is the third time in the past 18 months Openlands has transferred property to another entity in Lake County.
The area is a designated Illinois Nature Preserve and is of statewide ecological significance with at least six threatened and endangered plant species. It's also a fuel and rest stop for thousands of migrating birds.