Cook County officials want you to think “Shabbona” instead of “Sheboygan” when it comes to your camping destination.
The Forest Preserve District of Cook County will open the first of five public camping sites May 22 at Shabbona Woods in South Holland. It will be the culmination of a 2013 master plan the Forest Preserve District commissioned to create public camp sites.
“It will be the first time in the 50 years of the Forest Preserve District that there will be family, large-group and RV camping,” said FPDCC spokesperson Lambrini Lukidis.
By this summer, the county plans to have five camp sites – Bullfrog Lake in Willow Springs, Camp Dan Beard in Northbrook, Camp Reinberg in Palatine, Camp Sullivan in Tinley Park and Shabbona – open to the public.
For decades, only organized groups, such as Boy Scouts, had access to Forest Preserve facilities for camping
The extent that residents get in touch with nature will be totally up to them. Lukidis pointed out that county camp offerings will range from tent pads to a heated cabin with indoor bathrooms. She said fees will be as low as $35 to $100, depending on the season.
“County officials do not price to be a reason that people don’t camp,” Lukidis said. “I have heard people refer to this as ‘urban camping.’ People can go 20 or 30 minutes from home and camp. They don’t have to go all the way to Wisconsin or Michigan.”
The county will offer gear rental at camp locations for novices who don’t want to go out and buy all the stuff before seeing if they like the experience or if they are just occasional campers. Groups of 30 or more will be offered free equipment.
Specialized programs, such as family camping and Camping 101, will also be offered as part of the camping experience.
“We want to expose people to camping,” Lukidis said. “There are a lot of people in the city and outlying areas who don’t camp and don’t believe they can do it without traveling a long way. This is a great option for them.”
Individuals can book camping stays at Shabbona online at www.fpdcc.com/camping, by telephone at 1-855-YES-CAMP or in person at the Forest Preserve of Cook County Headquarters, 536 N. Harlem Ave., River Forest. Phone and in-person registration is from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.
The other four sites are expected to open in June and July.
“Two years ago, we released a camping master plan that detailed our vision for offering an array of new camping options for Cook County residents,” said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. “We wanted to build on our camping legacy and encourage a new generation to explore overnight camping as a means of relaxation and recreation close to home.
“This summer, those plans come to fruition. People will come together in our forests to roast marshmallows, share campfire stories and wake up with the rising sun. Their ability to camp close to home will be a tremendous experience and will demonstrate the value of these natural assets.”
Forest Preserve officials expect single- and multi-night getaways will draw families, couples, groups of friends and organized groups to county properties.
“As we celebrate our centennial year, we are looking ahead to the next century of the forest preserves,” said Arnold Randall, general superintendent of forest preserves in the county. “We need to think beyond picnic groves, if we want people to engage with nature and truly experience the preserves and wilderness in their back yards.
“Camping, coupled with programming, can connect residents with a wonderful natural resource in a way that is most comfortable and suitable for novices, experts and group leaders.”
The county has made a $29 million investment to revitalize and create the camp sites. Once all the sites are up and running, the county could play host to 1,000 campers on any given day.
“There is a lot of opportunity there,” Lukidis said. “The county has made an investment for residents to be outdoors, to be in our natural resources and enjoy what we have. It will also introduce some people to our forest preserves, which is valuable.”