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Press Release: Forest Preserves Launches $10 Million Palos Preserves Trail and Restoration Project

A person presenting to a group of people in a forest setting.
Troy Showerman, Resource Project Manager with the Forest Preserves, addresses a group, including Toni Preckwinkle, during a scenic hike through Red Gate Woods, highlighting the project's restoration efforts.

State funding for the Forest Preserves of Cook County’s largest ecological restoration project and major improvements to the popular trail system

The Forest Preserves of Cook County has broken ground on its largest ecological restoration project ever, a multi-year initiative that will also reconstruct and improve portions of the most extensive trail system in the Forest Preserves. Funded by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, the $10 million Swallow Cliff and Palos Trail System Infrastructure Improvements project will restore approximately 1,100 acres of natural land, mitigate erosion and upgrade accessibility and wayfinding markers on the trails.

“The Palos Preserves are an unrivaled resource in Cook County in terms of size, natural diversity and amenities. I want to thank Illinois State Senator Bill Cunningham and Representative Kelly Burke for championing this support and the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity for providing this critical investment. The benefits to wildlife and to visitors will be immeasurable for generations to come.”

Cook County Board and Forest Preserves of Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle

The Palos Preserves cover 15,000 acres, the largest contiguous area in the Forest Preserves of Cook County and the same size as the Indiana Dunes National Park. The site includes the Swallow Cliff stairs, Camp Bullfrog Lake, Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center, Sagawau Environmental Learning Center, Maple Lake boathouse and the largest Urban Night Sky Place in the world.

The 78 miles of trails in the Palos Preserves has been ranked as a top ten hiking destination in Illinois by Trip Advisor and includes more than 24 miles of single-track mountain biking opportunities.

To prepare for the restoration work, the Forest Preserves Department of Resource Management surveyed and prioritized target parcels in the Red Gate Woods area and charted the location of native shrubs to be protected during the work. Staff and contractors Stantec Consulting and Tallgrass Restoration began removing brush—primarily invasive honeysuckle— last December, completing 216 acres before ending for the season in late March in consideration of nesting birds and wetter conditions. During warmer months, ongoing work will include follow-up vegetative and woody invasive species control.

“In a region that has been heavily developed, nature needs our help. The Forest Preserves has made ecological restoration a priority, and we’re excited to have a project of this size and scope underway alongside other restoration work throughout the county. Restoration not only builds healthy habitats for native plants and animals, it also makes a stunning site like the Palos Preserves even more interesting and beautiful to visit.”

Forest Preserves Interim General Superintendent Eileen Figel

For the trails, restoration during the project will address erosion in ravines and hills, improving sight lines and the natural experience for trail users. Work on trails both south and north of the Cal-Sag Canal in upcoming years will include improved surfaces, additional accessible paths for access, trailhead and directional signs, and new opportunities for exploration of the amenities in the Palos Preserves.

Funding for the Swallow Cliff and Palos Trail System Infrastructure Improvements project is provided by the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and made possible through Build Illinois bond funds.


About the Forest Preserves of Cook County
Don’t you sometimes just want to escape? Explore the natural beauty of Cook County for an hour, a day or even a night. When you’re surrounded by 70,000 acres of wild and wonderful there’s no better place to feel free.