This year has undoubtedly been challenging. But I am proud of the numerous accomplishments the Forest Preserves has made in 2020 to continue advancing its mission during an unprecedented year. I’d like to take this opportunity to share a few.
Every year the Forest Preserves and partners engage individuals in employment opportunities throughout the Preserves through a half dozen Conservation Corps programs. This year, with on-site work severely limited, the Preserves and organizations such as Friends of the Forest Preserves, Student Conservation Association, Audubon Great Lakes, Housing Authority of Cook County, Forest Preserve Foundation and Greencorps Chicago, found a way to continue to provide paid, hands-on experience to nearly 300 participants, including youth and individuals with barriers to employment, from across Cook County’s diverse communities.
While nature centers were closed and many events cancelled, Forest Preserves programming teams and naturalists transitioned to virtual programming. New materials and events were developed to continue to teach us about our local natural world online, a new resource that the Forest Preserves continues to provide.
Our Volunteer Resources team launched a new litter removal program, Select Organized Litter Obliterator or SOLO, to enable visitors to channel their interest in giving back to nature while allowing for physical distancing.
But our biggest accomplishment—something I am tremendously grateful for—is that with very few exceptions, the Forest Preserves of Cook County remained open for the public as an important and safe resource for physical and mental wellness.
With record-breaking visitation, our Landscape Maintenance and Facilities and Fleet departments stepped up to handle increased demand for trash disposal, new signs, restroom cleanings and other maintenance, and the Forest Preserves Police assisted new visitors who were unfamiliar with the preserves and prioritized new rules for public health. The Permits department worked to handle the many changes required by shifting public health guidelines, and back-office staff kept the Forest Preserves running throughout it all.
We are all hopeful for a better 2021 and look forward to continuing to serve Cook County residents and protecting and preserving our public lands.
We hope to see you in the Preserves!
Toni Preckwinkle, President