In 1929, Cap Sauers, general superintendent of the Forest Preserves of Cook County, warned in a report that “constant and incessant demand is made upon the Board of Forest Preserve Commissioners for uses of the preserves contrary to the intent of the law and which, if permitted, would eventually destroy their real significance.”
On Aug. 11, the Riverside-Brookfield Landmark ran an article and editorial regarding a request by Riverside-Brookfield High School to develop a parking lot and ball field on land owned by the Forest Preserves of Cook County.
This is just the sort of issue that Cap Sauers referred to nearly 100 years ago. Recently, the Conservation & Policy Council of the Forest Preserves of Cook County revisited the challenge that perennially faces the Forest Preserves.
After months of research and analysis, we adopted a position paper on land acquisition and disposition. The council’s position is clear: “[T]he disposition of Forest Preserves land by sale or other conveyance should be completely halted through a moratorium, until principles are agreed upon that make land disposition possible solely in rare and extreme instances. The functional disposition of land through the approval or tolerance of inappropriate land uses on Forest Preserves land should be forbidden, with robust efforts undertaken to reverse this practice.”
In addition to noting the benefits of open land in a natural state and calling for increasing the amount of land conserved in Cook County, the paper notes that the Forest Preserves must stop the subtraction of acres by sale or trade to other owners or by encroachment or misuse of Forest Preserves property.
The ongoing pandemic has made even more clear that the public needs and values nature and access to it. People of all ages, neighborhoods, and backgrounds find solace, freedom to move, and joy in the forest preserves that the public owns and pays for.
While we acknowledge the need for ball parks and parking spaces, they are not the business of the Forest Preserves. Nature is.
In the third-largest metropolis in the United States, Cook County residents are blessed with forest preserves that include a great diversity of natural habitats native to northern Illinois.
We aim to maintain the vision of civic leaders when they first established the system. Giving up land bit by bit would betray a great public trust, and incrementally diminish this extraordinary public asset.
Wendy Paulson, chair
Conservation & Policy Council Forest Preserves of Cook County
Laurel Ross, chair
Land Acquisition and Disposition Committee