When I was elected President of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County two years ago, I charged General Superintendent Arnold Randall with developing a plan to get more young people out into our preserves, to explore ideas, like camping, that can serve as an entry point to introduce children to the natural world.
Many people, myself included, have fond memories of sleeping outdoors, hearing the sounds of nature at night and being with their family in a new, quiet setting, away from chores and work.
Although the Forest Preserve District allowed public camping in its early years, it was eventually prohibited and only available to organized groups like the Boy Scouts of America. Last month, we introduced our new Camping Master Plan, to bring family and individual camping back to this area.
Some people think that you have to travel to Michigan or Wisconsin to have these experiences. They may lack the time or the resources to make their way there. But in the next three years, we will create those opportunities right here in the forest preserves—just 40 minutes outside of downtown Chicago.
During this time, we will revitalize existing camps, such as Sullivan and Reinberg, create new camping destinations, including Camp Pine Woods and Bullfrog Lake, and develop special-event campsites near nature centers.
These proposed campsites are located throughout the county. They will offer diverse experiences, including educational programs and adventure-based recreation, all of which serve the greater goal of connecting people to nature.
The Forest Preserve District is on the cusp of its 100-year anniversary. This is the time for us to reflect on the preserves—to look at the successes of the past, and to chart a course for the future.
Now, more than ever, we must create new ways to engage our residents, that draw them into our lands and that give them reasons to come back again. We believe that camping is a critical way for us to accomplish this goal.
Toni Preckwinkle, President
Forest Preserves of Cook County