Anyone who appreciates the Forest Preserves of Cook County can share something about what makes them special. At the Foundation’s recent “Summer Soiree,” several speakers did just that.
Board member Jeff Gray recalled kicking off summer with a ride along the “swatch of green” that is the North Branch Trail all the way to Lake Cook Road.
Forest Preserves General Superintendent Arnold Randall exclaimed about how many more people are camping in the Preserves. Last year, there were 70,000 visits to campgrounds, he said.
Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin made the point that restoring Forest Preserves land benefits everyone. “We would have rain runoffs all over the place” if the Preserves weren’t there to absorb the water, he said.
Making the connection
The Foundation’s “Summer Soiree,” hosted by board members Jim Beck, Kerri Daniels, Jeff Gray and Stu Cohn, took place June 25 on the North Shore. The evening was among the ongoing public and private events designed to better acquaint community members with the connection between the Forest Preserves of Cook County and the Foundation. It also provided a chance for guests, many civic and business leaders invited by board members, to hear directly from Forest Preserves leadership and young people whose lives have been touched by Foundation support.
Among the local government leaders were Chris Rintz, Winnetka village president; Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Commissioner Josita Morita, and Karen Gray-Keeler, Skokie Village trustee.
Randall began his remarks with a brief history of the now 104-years-old Forest Preserves. Today’s Forest Preserves staff is charged with protecting that legacy, he said. More specific for the audience that evening, he pointed out the Preserve properties on the North Shore. Those include the North Branch Trail, Harms Woods Nature Preserve, River Trail Nature Center, Skokie Lagoons, Chicago Botanic Garden, which sits on FP land.
The Forest Preserves are funded in large part by Cook County property taxes. About 1 percent of the average taxpayer’s bill goes to the Forest Preserves. While the Preserves leadership has been good stewards of the public dollars, Randall said, those funds don’t cover everything that’s needed to protect and restore the land.
Filling the gap
As the philanthropic partner to the Preserves, the Foundation helps fill the gap. The Foundation raises funds from private donors that are invested in restoring areas like Cap Sauers Holding Preserve and funding youth conservation leadership programs.
Jalanni Matthews and Luis Cabrales, who are Conservation Corps alums, also spoke that evening. They’re both in college now but look fondly back on their experiences working in the Forest Preserves.
Matthews, from the Southeast Side of Chicago, is studying earth, society and the environment at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He spent several years with SCA , beginning in his sophomore year of high school. “What kept me coming back to SCA was seeing that the work that we do and the impact that you have on the areas,” he said. He’s most proud of the fact that the work allowed him to be a leadership figure to other youth in his community, “so that they could see that there’s something [positive] going on in their neighborhood.”