Forest Preserves target Palos land

Kevin Beese
Holy Family Villa in Palos Park.  Photo courtesy of Catholic Charities, Chicago.

Holy Family Villa in Palos Park. Photo courtesy of Catholic Charities, Chicago.

County Forest Preserve officials are poised to add 162 acres of land to the entity’s holdings.

The 162 acres of land near McGinty Slough, located at Will Cook Road and 123rd Street in Palos Park, have been eyed by Forest Preserve officials for potential acquisition for quite some time.

“A few years ago, we did a land acquisition master plan for forest preserves and this property rated very highly in the process,” said Arnold L. Randall, general superintendent of the Forest Preserves. “It was in the top 5 of properties for potential acquisition, I believe.”

Randall noted that the 162-acre site is adjacent to Forest Preserve land, the McGinty Slough, and meets the criteria for becoming a preserve of its own.

“It is in good quality in respect to ecosystems,” Randall said. “We feel very strongly that it meets all the criteria for creation of a new forest preserve.”

The 162-acre addition brings the Forest Preserves of Cook County up to 69,313 acres of land. The Palos property is part of the Holy Family Villa subdivision.

The property where Holy Family Villa Nursing Home stands is not part of the potential land acquisition.

“This is an important acquisition for the Forest Preserves,” said Toni Preckwinkle, president of the Forest Preserves of Cook County. “Protecting open land and making sure green space is available for native plants and wildlife is at the core of our mission.

“This new piece of property will expand our footprint in the South Suburbs and contribute to the overall quality of life.”

Cook County is one of the most densely populated areas in the country. While the Forest Preserves comprise 11 percent of the county, one of the goals of the Next Century Conservation Plan, commissioned by Preckwinkle, is to expand the Forest Preserves to 90,000 acres during the next 25 years.

Purchasing parcels in proximity to other high-quality and existing preserves is also recommended in the FPCC’s Natural and Cultural Resources Master Plan.

“This parcel was identified by our staff because of its strategic location,” said Randall. “From an ecological standpoint, adding land near existing preserves has several benefits.

“Acquiring land prevents future development which can cause habitat fragmentation which separates an ecosystem and disrupts the species therein.”

The soon-to-be-acquired land borders the Cap Sauers Nature Preserve, one of the FPCC’s largest natural areas, as well as a diverse habitat mixture of wetland, lake and open field. Expanding land in the area presents opportunities for better connectivity of greenways and trails. Defining and filling in gaps in current land holdings was identified as a key priority in the FPCC’s 2012 Land Acquisition Plan.

The FPCC has a real estate acquisition fund, which is financed through general obligation money. In 2012, the sale of general obligation bonds resulted in an additional $27 million earmarked for land acquisition.

Nearly 400 acres were added to the Forest Preserve district last year with the acquisition of Horizon Farms in Barrington. Since 2011, the Forest Preserves has acquired 873 acres of land.