Long-term vision introduces landmark site features to various Forest Preserve sites
Forest Preserves of Cook County General Superintendent Arnold Randall presented the organization’s Gateway Master Plan at the Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 12, establishing the long-range vision of “gateway” sites, which was conceived in the 2013 Centennial Campaign Plan.
The plan explores gateways as a class of special sites with identifiable entry-ways at various locations throughout the preserves to encourage people to take advantage of the natural open space available in Cook County.
“Creating a physical gateway to the Forest Preserves will serve as a landmark to the public as well as a welcome sign for visitors who all too often overlook the variety of amenities available to them throughout the county,” said Toni Preckwinkle, President of the Forest Preserves of Cook County.
The Gateway Master Plan was made possible, in part, with funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through the Healthy HotSpot initiative led by the Cook County Department of Public Health. The Healthy HotSpot initiative aims to build healthy places in suburban Cook County that make healthy living easier through community partnerships. More than $200,000 has supported the Gateway design process. The Forest Preserve Foundation also provided an additional $51,000 towards the Gateway initiative.
“The Forest Preserves are making healthy living easier for suburban Cook County residents by providing opportunities to connect with nature and outdoor activities. We are proud to work with them as a Healthy HotSpot partner,” said Dr. Terry Mason, MD, F.A.C.S, Chief Operating Officer of the Cook County Department of Public Health.
Potential gateway locations are identified along highly visible, high-traffic areas which already serve as activity hubs within various communities.
“The Master Plan will help guide Forest Preserves staff in recognizing and enhancing ideal locations for gateways,” said Arnold Randall, General Superintendent of the Forest Preserves of Cook County. “Once established, the gateways will serve as noticeable landmarks unique to the Forest Preserves. We hope visitors will associate the preserves as a place for healthy, public recreational activities, events and areas, as well as a place to appreciate and explore natural habitats.”
According to the Gateway Master Plan, gateway sites should convey a sense of welcome, interest, safety and beauty. Opportunities to create a “sense of place” include increasing natural area restoration, integrating art and sculptures, and developing a policy on interpretation that communicates natural and cultural assets within the Forest Preserves.
The plan also identifies opportunities, challenges and recommendations for informational and directional signage, and access; amenities; public art; future concession spaces and creating a sense of place. Approximately 30 total sites are selected for gateway improvements, and 12 priority sites are chosen for the first round of improvements:
- Northwest Zone
- Deer Grove / Camp Reinberg
- Ned Brown / Busse Woods
- North Zone
- Skokie Lagoons
- Bunker Hill and Caldwell Woods
- Central Zone
- Thatcher Woods / Trailside Museum
- Bemis Woods
- South Zone
- Dan Ryan Woods
- Eggers Grove
- Sand Ridge Nature Center / Camp Shabbona Woods / Green Lake Aquatic Center
- Sauk Trail Woods
- Southwest Zone
- Camp Bullfrog Lake / Maple Lake Boat House / Little Red School House (Palos Pulaski Complex)
- Oak Forest Heritage Preserve
By the end of 2016, the Forest Preserves hopes to have more detailed design plans for six of the 12 priority sites, as well as permits in place to begin construction. Plans for the six initial gateway sites will be announced at a later date.
According to Planning and Development Director Chris Slattery, the Forest Preserves will phase in implementation of the Gateway Master Plan, with some site improvement at each of the 30 gateway sites within the next five years.
“The first priority will be to improve informational and directional signage, followed by improving amenities at gateway sites, and finishing with improving a sense of place at these locations,” Slattery said.
A team of consultants led by the Chicago-based Lakota Group is in the process of developing site plans and design standards for informational and directional signage to better orient visitors on starting points, amenities and resources available at gateway locations.
The second priority of the Gateway Master Plan will guide the Forest Preserves on improving amenities available at the gateway locations.
A safe and comfortable experience for all visitors is a key goal of Forest Preserves officials. This means providing consistent, dependable amenities including parking, shade shelters, benches, water fountains, trash cans, bike racks and more.
While improving informational and directional signage will be the primary objective of the Forest Preserves initially, the organization sees gateway sites as an opportunity to engage with partners and community stakeholders on aspects of the plan. Forest Preserves staff is also seeking outside partners for programs and events to encourage more people to use the preserves.
“We welcome and hope for support from municipalities, corporate partners, not-for-profits and stewardship groups in transforming the Forest Preserves into a premier destination for residents and visitors alike,” stated Randall.
The Gateway Master Plan aligns with the Forest Preserves of Cook County’s Next Century Conservation Plan, which seeks to make everyone in Cook County feel welcome at the Forest Preserves.
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.