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President's Letter: Picnic Season

I’m a native of Minnesota. It’s a state known for its wild landscapes and outdoorsy folks, so I learned from an early age to appreciate nature and the joys of a spontaneous summer picnic.

What many don’t realize is that right here in thoroughly urbanized northeastern Illinois, people can picnic a stone’s throw away from some of the Midwest’s most beautiful and biologically rich landscapes.

Here in Cook County, the Forest Preserve District maintains 274 picnic groves for use throughout the year. With 8,468 picnic permits issued in 2012 for an estimated total attendance of 983,465 people coming to reserved groves, picnicking is one of the largest organized activities in the Cook County forest preserves.

The Forest Preserve District helps families, friends and coworkers make memories in a relaxed outdoor setting close to nature. A picnic can strengthen family ties or help office departments reach beyond their silos. It’s low-cost (as little as $47 for a permit for 25 to 99 people) and can accommodate small groups or large. Groups of fewer than 24 people can picnic in designated Family Picnic Areas or spread a blanket on a mowed field any time of day without a reservation. We also have a few groves that can accommodate groups as large as 6,000 for occasions such as large cultural or corporate events. Historically, the Forest Preserve District General Headquarters in River Forest saw hundreds of people crowd through its doors each year on Permit Opening Day, January 2, to claim their favorite grove. Yet since the District introduced its online permitting system about seven years ago, more and more people are purchasing permits from home, and lines have gotten shorter. This year, in an effort to better accommodate picnic patrons, the Permit Department has extended its hours between April and the end of September, staying open from 8:30 am to 6:30 pm, Monday through Friday, and 9 am to 1 pm on Saturdays.

With so many thousands of people coming to our picnic groves, we realize that there’s a great opportunity to connect that celebratory experience to the wilder world of prairie and woodland that lies just beyond the mowed grass. This summer, we’ll be piloting the Forest Preserve Fun Van. When picnic groups purchase a permit, they’ll learn about opportunities for Forest Preserve District program staff to visit their gathering. Forest Fun Van staff will share ways to better understand and experience the natural areas and recreational amenities surrounding our picnic groves, with artifacts, information and equipment for exploring nature and outdoor fun.

Our hope is that a picnicker who began the summer just looking for a great burger and potato salad might develop a hunger to learn about great blue herons, tallgrass prairies, hiking trails and fishing spots as well.

I encourage you to learn more on on Picnics Page.

We’ll see you out there this summer!

Toni Preckwinkle, President
Forest Preserves of Cook County