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President's Letter: The Forest Preserves Belong to the People—All People

President Toni Preckwinkle at the Settler's Day event

The Forest Preserves of Cook County is owned by the taxpayers. Our communities are incredibly diverse, encompassing people of all backgrounds and heritages. It is our responsibility to be inclusive and welcoming to all—a commitment we at the Forest Preserves take seriously. With February marking Black History Month, I wanted to touch on some of the ways the Forest Preserves is working on addressing racial equity and expanding our connections across Cook County. 

Last year, we opened a new nature play area and exercise stairs at Dan Ryan Woods on Chicago’s South Side, the latest new amenities in $3.5 million of improvements since 2013 at this site. 

We are creating a “Sand Ridge Campus” in suburban South Holland that will reimagine Sand Ridge Nature Center as a place to learn about local ecosystems and local history. New signs, trails, programs and projects will link the nature center, Camp Shabbona Woods, Green Lake Aquatic Center, and the adjacent nature preserve into a unified experience for visitors. 

After building a new canoe and kayak launch in west suburban Maywood Grove in 2018, we started the Greater Maywood Paddling Program, which teaches leaders of local organizations how to lead a group kayak trip on the Des Plaines River.  

For the last couple years, Forest Preserves staff have worked with more than a dozen community and civic organizations in Altgeld Gardens and other South Side neighborhoods in our Better Beaubien initiative. It’s helped us launch new events at Beaubien Woods, bring out more residents to the site, and even started a native planting program last year with seniors living in Chicago Housing Authority housing. 

From what we’ve learned at Beaubien Woods, the Forest Preserves began a new effort to hold more events and activities created and led by local groups, making the Preserves a vital resource for their community. Proposals are welcome from any part of Cook County, and the Preserves is particularly targeting its outreach in the South and West sides of Chicago and the South suburbs. 

Addressing equity is not a simple task or one that will be complete in years or even decades. The Forest Preserves is in the fight for the long haul. Last year, the employee Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion committee began its work to promote a work culture that embraces diversity and is inclusive and welcoming to all Forest Preserves employees, visitors and partners. 

We talk in this newsletter about how the Forest Preserves are great place to connect with nature, get exercise, spend time with friends and family, and so much more. Everyone benefits when everyone has a real opportunity to be involved in what the Forest Preserves offers Cook County. 

We hope to see you in your Forest Preserves! 

Toni Preckwinkle, President