Friday, May 17, 2013

History of Chicagoland's Forest Preserves


The City of Chicago is within Cook County and is surrounded by five neighboring counties, together offering residents 50+ multi-purpose recreational trails for bikers, hikers, and equestrians -- well over 500 miles of trails and all traversing 190,000 acres of lovely forest preserve land.  How did this vast and varied preserved acreage of nearly 30 square miles come to be?


Cook County

It all began nearly 100 years ago when the Municipal Science Club of Chicago concluded in 1904 that naturally beautiful areas such as the bluffs and beaches along Lake Michigan and the various rivers of the area should be preserved “for the benefit of the public in both the city and its suburbs, and for their own sake and scientific value, which, if ever lost, cannot be restored for generations.”

In 1913, the Forest Preserve District Act was conceived and in November of 1914, the residents of Cook County voted to establish the Forest Preserve District of Cook County.  The first meeting of Commissioners was in February of 1915, and in June of 1916, the first land was purchased, 500 acres in what is now Deer Grove Forest Preserve in the far northwest Palatine - Barrington area.  This commemorative plaque below (1926) welcomes you to Deer Grove Forest Preserve at its bike trail entrance at Dundee and Quentin Roads (click to enlarge):






The plaque states that the forest preserve district “seeks to perpetuate the forests and streams, hills and vales, prairies and fields, for another generation than this.  Thousands of acres of forests skirting Cook County shall remain as the redmen left them -- that the health, strength, womanhood and manhood of our American posterity may benefit by this foresight.  To the athletically inclined there are outdoor sports - to the fishermen well stocked streams - to the floriculturist the wild flowers - to the tourist comfort - to the infirmed hope - to the future, the untrammeled unmolested virgin fields and forests - our tribute to future generations.”

By 1922, the Forest Preserve District of Cook County’s land holdings had already grown to 21,516 acres and today it encompasses 68,000 acres, 11% of the county!  Over 100 miles of paved trails and over 200 miles of unpaved multi-use trails are available.

The photo below shows the Des Plaines River Trail near Wheeling...




...and below is a fall photo, again on the Des Plaines River Trail...





DuPage County

With the Cook County model before them, the neighboring five counties surrounding Cook County modeled similar county preserves after those of Cook County, beginning with DuPage County’s preserves which were established in 1915 and became the fifth such system in the United States. 

Their first land acquisition was in 1917, the 79 acre York Woods Forest Preserve in Oak Brook. The DuPage preserves currently offer 80 miles of equestrian trails, 145 miles of hiking trails, and 80+ miles of biking trails, including segments of the famous Illinois Prairie Path. The preserve district encompasses a total of 25,104 acres.  

Below is a photo of Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve in Darien...





...and the Salt Creek Greenway Trail through Cricket Creek Forest Preserve in Addison...




Kane County

In 1925, Kane County’s preserve system was organized and now consists of 19,932 acres in 65 properties.  “Our Mission: To acquire, hold, and maintain lands within Kane County that contribute to the preservation of natural and historic resources, habitats, flora, and fauna; and to restore, restock, protect, and preserve such lands for the education, recreation, and pleasure of all its citizens.”

Below are photos of the windmill in Fabyan Forest Preserve along the Fox River Trail 
just south of Geneva...




...and the bike bridge beneath Route 20 across the Fox River heading to Voyageur’s 
Preserve and Tyler Creek Preserve...





Will County

Will County created their forest preserve system in 1928 and its first acquisition was Messenger Woods in 1930. It now comprises 21,916 acres. and offers over 100 miles of trails.  Their motto is “Bringing people and Nature Together.”

Below is a photo of Old Plank Road Trail...




...and Rock Run Greenway Trail...





Lake County

Lake County’s preserves began in 1957 as a grass roots effort by local resident Ethel Untermyer when her son, Frank, then a mere three years old, asked "to be taken to the woods.”  She began a year-long campaign on her own time and using her old Studebaker to drive the mostly dirt backroads throughout the county, and in 1958, over 60% of the population passed a referendum creating the forest preserve district.  Three years later, Van Patten Woods was created.  The 485 acre “Ethel’s Woods” has been established and named in her honor.  Over 30,000 acres now encompass the district’s holdings. 

Photos below are the Des Plaines River Trail in the fall ...



...and the Fort Hill Trail in Lakewood Forest Preserve in the former Four 
Winds Golf Course property...




Below is a photo of a winter snowshoe hike in Lakewood Forest Preserve...





McHenry County

In 1971, a group of ecologically conscientious citizens passed the referendum creating the McHenry County Conservation District.  Their first land purchase was the 50 acre Beck’s Woods Conservation Area in Chemung  in 1974, and their current 32 sites total over 25,000 acres. Their 26 mile long McHenry Prairie Trail is a continuation of the Fox River Trail to the Wisconsin border.

Below is a photo of the Prairie Trail as it climbs hills in the Crystal Lake/Veteran's Acres/Sterne's Woods area...



...and the photo below is the Hebron Trail near the Wisconsin border…


 ...and the following photo is atop the highest kame in Glacial Park, which 
they opened in 1975 (located between McHenry and 
Richmond) along the Nippersink Creek.









2 comments:

John Himmerschmidt said...

Hi Chuck, my kids aged 6 and 8 just learned to bike this summer and I'd love to take them out on a family biking picnic nearby on a trail that doesn't cross busy streets and a the same time is away from the city hustle. We live downton Chicago. Which trail/s do you recommend? Thanks!

Chuck said...

Hi, John -- Chicago's Lakefront Path is a wonderful ride and has no road crossings. Don't bike it on weekends, though -- crowded and sections are actually dangerous. I'd also suggest biking the North Branch Trail (along the Chicago River) which runs from the Caldwell/Devon/Lehigh intersection north to Chicago Botanic Gardens and Skokie Lagoons. Paved, lots of forest preserve parking lots along the trail, bridges or traffic lights at major road crossings, and close to food and beverages in many places. The Des Plaines River Trail is dirt/gravel and more secluded and less traveled and is also all through forest preserves (from around Maywood to Wisconsin border.) Also, my Bike, Hike, Paddle website link has 30+ Chicago area trails listed.