Cook County Forest Preserves' general superintendent to end productive 13-year tenure
Cook County Forest Preserve District General Superintendent Arnold Randall has announced plans to step down next month, ending a distinct and productive 13-year tenure.
He will become the next executive director of the Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelly Foundation, whose mission is supporting land conservation, artistic vitality and the regional collections of often overlooked people in the Chicago region and the Lowcountry of South Carolina.
Since Randall's appointment by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, the forest preserve district has forged an ambitious Next Century Conservation Plan, celebrated its centennial, developed new strategic plans for its trails and habitat restoration, strengthened its partnerships including through the creation of an advisory Conservation and Policy Council, and opened five new campgrounds.
Randall credited Preckwinkle for providing the political will to improve the reputation of all aspects of Cook County government, including ending the practice of making the forest preserves a patronage dumping ground and embracing its original mission of land conservation and investment in equitable accessibility to natural areas.
About 15% of today's trail system in the county's preserves has been built during Randall's tenure.
"The trails get millions and millions of visitors," he said. "We recognized that improving that trail system was very important. ... We looked at places where there had been a historic lack of investment."
The pandemic in particular proved to be an eye-opener for many Cook County residents about their access to nature when there was nowhere else to go, he said.
The number of annual visits to the preserves increased from 62 million to 100 million in 2020, and hasn't waned with the pandemic.
Voters then supported the recent property tax levy to add more than $40 million to the district's annual revenue.
Randall's professional background at the time of his appointment included being a supervisor of Chicago parks. Though parks are different from preserves in a number of ways, that experience provided a foundational knowledge of managing public open spaces, he said.
In addition to everything else that's been accomplished, Randall said he's pleased higher expectations have been created for the district that - even in his absence or under a later administration - many people would notice and push back against any reduction of its current standards.
Preckwinkle praised Randall's approach to the position and his accomplishments.
"Arnold has been a calm, collaborative and strategic leader, always looking for how to advance the mission of the Forest Preserves of Cook County: protect our natural places and connect more people to nature," she said in a statement.
"The changes over the 13 years he has been general superintendent have been extraordinary by every metric," Preckwinkle said. "The organization is more effective and efficient, there are more resources, better partnerships, new programs, healthier habitats - the list goes on and on. While none of us want to see to see him go, he leaves an indelible legacy with the agency firmly headed in the right direction."
Randall thanked Preckwinkle for the opportunity and support, the staff for their vision and dedication, the board for their backing, and the preserves' many advocates, volunteers, partners and collaborators.
"It has been an honor to be part of the legacy of leadership at the forest preserves," Randall said.
Officials have credited Randall's leadership for making the forest preserve district a more transparent and accountable agency protecting the sustainability and accessibility of Cook County's 70,000 acres of natural areas.
Deputy General Superintendent Eileen Figel will become interim general superintendent in January until a permanent appointment is made.