Forest Preserves, Openlands partner to upgrade 77 acres in Lake Forest

Chronicle Media

Openlands and the Lake County Forest Preserves have been in conversation about the potential transfer of the 77 acres and one mile of Lake Michigan shoreline.
(Photo courtesy of Openlands)

The Lake County Forest Preserves reported that its planning committee recently approved a resolution recommending the acceptance of the 77-acre Openlands Lakeshore Preserve, which would be an addition to the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve in Lake Forest.

Openlands, founded in 1963, is a nonprofit conservation organization and land trust designed to protect natural and open spaces in northeastern Illinois and the surrounding region. Openlands and the Lake County Forest Preserves have been in conversation about the potential transfer of the 77 acres and one mile of Lake Michigan shoreline.

“Openlands has a long, successful track record of acquiring critical parcels and transferring them at the appropriate time to qualified landowners,” said Openlands President and CEO Jerry Adelman. “We focus on establishing trusted relationships within communities, protecting vital ecosystems and creating access to nature for all.”

Openlands assumed ownership of the site, part of the Fort Sheridan Army Base, in phases between 2007 and 2010. The site — one of the few publicly accessible ravines and blufftop ecosystems in the area — is of statewide ecological significance and home to at least six threatened and endangered plant species. In addition, thousands of migrating birds rest and refuel at the preserve each year.

“We are thrilled to add the additional parcel, which will result in nearly two miles of contiguous, publicly accessible shoreline at Fort Sheridan,” said Lake County Forest Preserves Executive Director Alex Ty Kovach. “A scenic destination, this stately preserve offers a variety of opportunities to recreate in nature.”

Openlands closed the preserve in 2021 due to safety concerns over remnant military items, which are in the process of being addressed. Lake County Forest Preserves plans to conduct its own safety analysis and hopes to open the 77-acre parcel later this summer.

Within the next few years, the Forest Preserves expects to complete a master plan of the new acreage while considering the existing holdings to ensure a seamless visitor experience.

“Openlands did an excellent job creating accessible trails through the sensitive ravine and blufftop habitats, installing bridges and staircases, and did exceptional restoration work,” Kovach said. “We look forward to building on their investments in the site to incorporate the new acreage into the Fort Sheridan experience.”

As part of the deal, Openlands will transfer about $1.29 million for conservation and habitat restoration on the property. The Preservation Foundation, the charitable partner of the Forest Preserves, will receive the funding and establish a long-term endowment, which will support ongoing ecological management of the 77 acres.

“The endowment will provide a permanent source of support to care for the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve at Fort Sheridan, today and forever,” Kovach said.

Lake County Forest Preserves President Angelo Kyle said, “This is a perfect example of how the Forest Preserves and the Preservation Foundation collaborate with partners like Openlands to maintain biodiversity and ensure that no further species are lost in Lake County. Our shared commitment to protect and restore open space brings us together in this critical mission.”