The Cook County Forest Preserve identified Riverside-Brookfield High School last week as one of the worst violators of county land throughout the Chicagoland area. The announcement came in spite of the fact that the high school has used the land, which is operated by the Brookfield Zoo, for the past four decades without any problems.

A report submitted to the Cook County Board by P.K. Parker, real estate administrator with the Forest Preserve District, singled out RB as one of the 11 most egregious abusers of public land. Some of the other biggest abusers on the lists include park, school and village districts in Barrington, Bloom Township, Chicago Heights, Lyons, Morton Grove and Steger.

In some cases, some people actually put fences and locks around the land and posted “No Trespassing” signs on trees around the property. In other situations, such as at RB, park and school districts have built athletic fields.

RB uses the land not only for school athletic, but also for physical education classes in the fall and spring. The school does not pay the Forest Preserve District a fee for the use of the land, but understands that the zoo has total control over it.

“We’ve canceled many sporting activities when they need overflow parking,” Baldermann said. “They’ve always had first rights to th e property,” said RB Superintendent/Principal Jack Baldermann.

Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica, a Riverside resident, doesn’t know how the use of district property went unnoticed for years, but admits that some of the offenders might end up in court unless they vacate the land.

“When the new board was elected last year, we all agreed that this property should be guarded,” Peraica said. “There needs to be greater attention put on misuse of our forest preserve property. It needs to be dealt with now … not next year.”

Baldermann said that the school is in the process of “working through” the issue with the Brookfield Zoo, which is part of the Forest Preserve District.

“I still feel we have a very positive relationship with the zoo, but we are in a situation where this is Forest Preserve property,” Baldermann said, “so we have to work out an agreement with them. I’m confident we’ll come to a positive resolution.”

Attempts to reach Brookfield Zoo Director Dr. Stuart Strahl were unsuccessful.

Peraica pointed out that the county is trying to target people who are making a profit off forest preserve land.

“There are people out there using our land and they aren’t paying a penny for it,” Peraica said. “So we’ve informed these people with legal notice that they have 60 days to restore the property to the way it was before, or they could face legal action.”

According to Peraica, Riverside-Brookfield High School will be able to continue using the land in the short term, but must come to some agreement with the Forest Preserve District for the future.

“This is a non-for-profit situation, and we’re not going to do something right now that is going to affect the high school’s daily activities,” Peraica said. “I had children that attended the high school and they run a fine ship over there.

“We need to sit down with them and see what their long-term plans for the land are,” Peraica added. “We’re not just thinking about tomorrow, next month or next year. We want to know what they plan on doing 20 years down the road.”

? Bob Uphues contributed to this report.